Why is Scandinavia the Perfect Setting for Crime Fiction?

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Readers lap up ‘Nordic noir', but what is it about Norway and the Nordics that makes them such good settings for crime fiction? Let's take a look.

Are you a reader? For me, there's nothing quite like curling up with a blanket in the autumn or the winter and diving into a good book. For many readers around the world, a crime novel is their first choice.

Norway skier in bad weather.

Scandinavian crime fiction, also known as Nordic noir, remains a popular genre around the world. As readers, we're drawn not just to the mystery of the crime itself, but to the world in which it's set.

In crime fiction, setting plays a pivotal role. It's not just a backdrop; it's a character in its own right. And in Scandinavia, the settings are characters that are moody and unpredictable.

The combination of atmospheric settings, societal contrasts, and deep-seated traditions makes the Nordic countries fertile ground for compelling crime fiction. Let's take a closer look at why that is.

Atmospheric scenery

The dramatic landscapes of Scandinavia, from Norway's majestic fjords and the dense forests of Sweden to the endless days and nights of the Arctic summer, provide a rich backdrop for a crime novel.

Panorama of the Hardangervidda mountain plateau in Norway
Hardangervidda. A stunning yet eerie setting.

The sheer remoteness of some areas and the feeling of helplessness that creates naturally set the tone for mysteries that are equally deep and compelling.

In some places, you might find a solitary cabin surrounded by miles of wilderness. The isolation can be both a blessing and a curse. On one hand, it offers serenity and peace; on the other, it provides a chilling sense of vulnerability. If something were to go wrong, help might be hours, if not days, away.

Contrasts with societal perfection

Scandinavian countries are often lauded for their high quality of life, progressive social policies, and general societal well-being. Many of these reasons are why so many of our readers have moved to Norway over the years.

Yet, this seeming utopia creates a sharp contrast when a crime occurs. It introduces an underbelly to an otherwise perceived perfect society, making it even more intriguing for readers.

Cultural nuances

For American and British readers, in particular, the unique cultural nuances of Scandinavian countries provide an almost exotic touch.

Winter hiking in Tromsø.
Hiking or being out in nature often plays a role in Scandinavian crime fiction.

Perhaps it's because English is so widely spoken that we believe Scandinavia is so similar, yet it's quite different when you begin to scratch the surface.

The rituals, traditions, and everyday aspects of Norwegian culture are both familiar and alien, creating an additional layer of intrigue. And the same is true for the other Nordic countries, too.

The role of the weather

The significance of the cold, dark winters in Scandinavia simply cannot be overstated.

As the days grow shorter and the nights longer, a heaviness descends, enveloping towns in an almost tangible blanket of mystery and foreboding.

This darkness becomes a mirror reflecting the inner turmoil and concealed secrets of characters within crime fiction. As snow blankets the region, it creates a stark, monochromatic world where everything seems cleaner and simpler on the surface.

Bergen's Bryggen in the rain.
Bergen's Bryggen in the rain.

Yet beneath that pristine layer, old footprints, buried evidence, and concealed truths await discovery. The snow acts both as a silencer, muting the sounds of the world, and as a revealer, showing traces of past actions.

The coastal regions of Scandinavia, particularly in Norway, experience frequent rainfall. Rain has a steady rhythm that can be both calming and persistent. The constant patter against windows and the dampness creeping into every corner can add layers of atmospheric tension.

A storytelling legacy

Great authors like Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbø have paved the way, creating global bestsellers that set the standard for Scandinavian crime fiction.

Their success and distinctive styles have carved out a niche that continues to inspire writers and captivate readers worldwide.

Are you a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction? Let us know what attracts to you to the genre in the comments, below.

About David Nikel

Originally from the UK, David now lives in Trondheim and was the original founder of Life in Norway back in 2011. He now works as a professional writer on all things Scandinavia.

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1 thought on “Why is Scandinavia the Perfect Setting for Crime Fiction?”

  1. I like Norse Crime literature because it has great character development and setting description.

    The first Norwegian literature I read was several books by Sigrud Undset. I also enjoyed Hamsun. Also read Karl Ove Knausgaards Struggle which introduced me to Jon Fosse and others.


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