The Best Women Writers of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

17th Feb 2015

Camilla Lackberg
Image: Camilla Läckberg - Wikimedia Commons
Beginning in the 90s with Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's 'Martin Beck' series, the Scandinavian crime fiction phenomenon really took off with the arrival of Stieg Larsson’s 'Millennium' trilogy. If you're curious to know more about the women writers of this popular genre then you're in the right place...

Scandinavian crime fiction has become one of the new fashionable trends in book publishing over the last ten years.

These novels are usually much darker, with more tension than your crime novel, but there is a reassuring structure to the plots which makes them exceptionally addictive. Scandinavian crime fiction often explores very dark themes, and is often greatly concerned with social issues and the problems the practicalities of living in the democratic, left wing political status which Scandinavia defines itself by.

However, no pre-existing knowledge of Scandinavia’s social policies is required thanks to expert storytelling on the part of the authors and translators. Women writers are as common as men in this genre and their writing is incredibly popular. Here’s an introduction to five of the best Scandinavian authors and our choice of novel to start off with:

Maj Sjöwall

In collaboration with her husband, Per Wahlöö, Sjöwall created the Martin Beck series, one of the most famous series of Scandinavian crime fiction. These novels are essential reading for anyone interested in crime fiction and, despite at times being dense, serve as both stunning critiques of 1960s Swedish society and deftly crafted crime novels.

Must read: The Laughing Policeman. A mass shooting on a public bus leads Beck and his team to suspect that the entire affair was orchestrated to disguise one murder. The slow unravelling of a motive for the shooting is a testament to the brilliant slow burning nature of Sjöwall and Wahlöös’ storytelling.

Karin Fossum

This incredibly successful Norwegian author is an excellent introduction to Scandinavian crime fiction. Her detective, Inspector Konrad Sejer, is unusually polite, a very nondescript man with admirable dedication to his job whose overbearing niceness contrasts with the dark themes Fossum threads through her narrative. On the surface these novels are not typical of this genre but there is an essential creepy atmosphere which renders these novels excellent examples of why Scandinavian crime fiction is so popular.

Must read: Don’t Look Back. A young girl disappears, only to return with the strange tale of a corpse. This novel is brilliantly twisted and full of red herrings.

Karin Alvtegen

Alvtegen’s novels are tightly wound psychological thrillers that analyse human behaviour and are often terrifyingly identifiable. Her writing translates brilliantly and novels are always terse, taunt and highly dramatic. The plots race along and the conclusion is always a dramatic, surprising climax. These novels are great for anyone who enjoyed Stieg Larsson’s novels.

Must read: Missing. A homeless young woman is suspected of murder, and goes on the run. This novel is a tense psychological thriller you’ll want to read in one sitting.

Åsa Larsson

Larsson has won numerous awards for her crime writing and is a highly successful international crime fiction author. Her novels are defined by the detail she puts into her setting and the atmosphere this creates almost seeps from the page. Her work is instantly recognisable, and her use of language and beautiful construction make her novels a prime example of the atmospheric and grimy Scandinavian crime fiction that has made this genre so popular.

Must read: The Savage Alter or Sun Storm. A struggling young lawyer is forced to confront her past when she defends an old school friend suspected of killing her preacher brother. Larsson uses the religious element to create a creepy atmosphere that lingers long after you’ve finished the book.

Camilla Läckberg

The undisputed Queen of Scandinavian Crime fiction, Läckberg deploys depth in her characterisation which, married with her experienced storytelling, makes all of her novels immediately classic. Her work is both stunningly human, yet simultaneously rich with an ethereal darkness which makes for a captivating read. There’s a very human element to Läckberg’s writing which makes the novels brilliantly plausible despite the dark and twisted plots. Her atmospheric use of setting also makes her writing so engaging it’s hard to put her novels down.

Must read: The Ice Princess. When Erica Falck returns to her small town home to bury her parents, she becomes embroiled in the suspicious suicide of her old friend. Any fans of Henning Mankell will feel right at home withLäckberg’s use of her small town setting and the vivid characterisation.


 –  Hannah

Hannah is a 22 year old MA graduate. She’s a massive fan of crime fiction, primarily Scandinavian crime fiction and golden age crime fiction. She tweets at @HelplmHannah