To celebrate Women’s History Month and also to share our joy of reading best Nordic noir novels we have come across in the last decade covering the genre, we decided to focus on notable crime and mystery novels written by female authors.
Whether you’re new to the genre or are already an avid Nordic noir reader, we are fairly certain you’ll find few new names here and given the high caliber of female authors in this list, you won’t be disappointed with these titles.
Unwanted (Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht, #1) by Kristina Ohlsson. In the middle of a rainy Swedish summer, a little girl is abducted from a crowded train. Despite hundreds of potential witnesses, no one noticed when the girl was taken. Her distraught mother was left behind at the previous station in what seemed to be a coincidence.
The train crew was alerted and kept a watchful eye on the sleeping child. But when the train pulled into Stockholm Central Station, the little girl had vanished. Inspector Alex Recht and his special team of federal investigators, assisted by the investigative analyst Fredrika Bergman, are assigned to what at first appears to be a classic custody fight.
But when the child is found dead in the far north of Sweden with the word “unwanted” scribbled on her forehead, the case soon turns into the investigation team’s worst nightmare—the pursuit of a brilliant and ruthless killer.
The Ice Princess (Patrik Hedström, #1) by Camilla Läckberg. In this electrifying tale of suspense from an international crime-writing sensation, a grisly death exposes the dark heart of a Scandinavian seaside village. Erica Falck returns to her tiny, remote hometown of Fjällbacka, Sweden, after her parents’ deaths only to encounter another tragedy: the suicide of her childhood best friend, Alex.
It’s Erica herself who finds Alex’s body—suspended in a bathtub of frozen water, her wrists slashed. Erica is bewildered: Why would a beautiful woman who had it all take her own life? Teaming up with police detective Patrik Hedström, Erica begins to uncover shocking events from Alex’s childhood.
As one horrifying fact after another comes to light, Erica and Patrik’s curiosity gives way to obsession—and their flirtation grows into uncontrollable attraction. But it’s not long before one thing becomes very clear: a deadly secret is at stake, and there’s someone out there who will do anything—even commit murder—to protect it.
Camilla is one of the most financially successful female writers in the Nordic noir category.
My First Murder (Maria Kallio, #1) by Leena Lehtolainen. Twenty-three-year-old law student Maria Kallio is recruited for a temporary position at the Helsinki police department. Sweet-faced but tough and hot-tempered, Maria faces pushback from her new squad – so when a young playboy is murdered at his family’s summer villa, the new detective is out to prove herself.Found floating facedown at the water’s edge after a night of partying, Tommi Pelatonen appears to have been murdered by one of his closest friends – but why?
As Maria discovers, bitter passion and jealousy seethe under the placid surface of the group’s privileged, carefree lifestyle. As Maria uncovers the victim’s unsavory secrets, motives for all seven suspects come to light. Now it’s up to her to untangle the clues before the killer strikes again.
Sun Storm (Rebecka Martinsson, #1) by Åsa Larsson. Rebecka Martinsson is heading home to Kiruna, the town she’d left in disgrace years before. A Stockholm attorney, Rebecka has a good reason to return: her friend Sanna, whose brother has been horrifically murdered in the revivalist church his charisma helped create.
Beautiful and fragile, Sanna needs someone like Rebecka to remove the shadow of guilt that is engulfing her, to forestall an ambitious prosecutor and a dogged policewoman. But to help her friend, and to find the real killer of a man she once adored and is now not sure she ever knew, Rebecka must relive the darkness she left behind in Kiruna, delve into a sordid conspiracy of deceit, and confront a killer whose motives are dark, wrenching, and impossible to guess.
Missing by Karin Alvtegen. Born into a life of privilege, Sybilla has spent many years opting instead to live on the streets of Stockholm, cadging a bed, a bath, a meal, where she can. Her favorite technique?one she permits herself only as a special treat?plays out at the Grand Hotel, where with luck she can usually charm a lonely visiting businessman into buying her dinner and a room for the night. But then she picks the wrong businessman.
When his dead body is found the next morning, Sybilla becomes the prime suspect. For years, her anonymity has sheltered her; she has found a kind of home in the invisibility of homeless life. But with her anonymity shattered, Sybilla is forced into the one course of action that might allow her to go home again.
Some Kind of Peace by Camilla Grebe. Siri Bergman is a thirty-four-year-old psychologist who works in central Stockholm and lives alone in an isolated cottage out of the city. She has a troublesome secret in her past and has been trying to move on with her life. Terrified of the dark, she leaves all the lights on when she goes to bed—having a few glasses of wine each night to calm her nerves—but she can’t shake the feeling that someone is watching her through the blackened windows at night.
When the lifeless body of Sara Matteus—a young patient of Siri’s with a history of drug addiction and sexual abuse—is found floating in the water near the cottage, Siri can no longer deny that someone is out there, watching her and waiting. When her beloved cat goes missing and she receives a photo of herself from a stalker, it becomes clear that Siri is next.
Luckily, she can rely on Markus, the young policeman investigating Sara’s death; Vijay, an old friend and psychology professor; and Aina, her best friend. Together, they set about profiling Siri’s aspiring murderer, hoping to catch him before he kills again.
But as their investigation unfolds, Siri’s past and present start to merge and disintegrate so that virtually everyone in her inner circle becomes a potential suspect. With the suspense building toward a dramatic conclusion as surprising as it is horrifying, Siri is forced to relive and reexamine her anguished past, and finally to achieve some kind of peace.
Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman. In 1974, after moving to the remote town of Blackwater in northern Sweden to live with her lover, Annie Raft stumbles upon a brutal double murder that remains unsolved for twenty years, until her daughter falls in love with the man Annie had seen leaving the scene of the crime. 25,000 first printing. Tour.
Roseanna (Martin Beck, #1) by Maj Sjöwall. The masterful first novel in the Martin Beck series of mysteries by the internationally renowned crime writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (“the best writers of police procedurals in the world”), finds Beck hunting for the murderer of a lonely traveler.
On a July afternoon, a young woman’s body is dredged from Sweden’s beautiful Lake Vattern. With no clues Beck begins an investigation not only to uncover a murderer but also to discover who the victim was. Three months later, all Beck knows is that her name was Roseanna and that she could have been strangled by any one of eighty-five people on a cruise.
As the melancholic Beck narrows the list of suspects, he is drawn increasingly to the enigma of the victim, a free-spirited traveler with a penchant for casual sex, and to the psychopathology of a murderer with a distinctive–indeed, terrifying–sense of propriety.
Maj is one of the most well-known female Scandinavian authors and a pioneer of the genre in her region.
Only One Life – or The Drowned Girl – (Louise Rick #3) by Sara Blaedel. It’s clearly no ordinary drowning. When a young girl is pulled from the watery depths, a piece of concrete tied around her waist and two mysterious circular patches on the back of her neck, Detective Louise Rick is immediately called out to Holbaek Fjord.
Her name was Samra, and when the police learn that she was a member of Holbaek’s sizeable Muslim immigrant community, they immediately assume it was an honor killing. Yet her mother insists Samra had done nothing dishonorable. Louise must navigate the complex web of family and community ties in the small town’s tightly knit Muslim community as she hunts a killer…before he strikes again.
I Can See in the Dark by Karin Fossum. Another one of our Nordic noir favorites.
Riktor doesn’t like the way the policeman storms into his home without even knocking. He doesn’t like the arrogant way he walks around the house, taking note of its contents. The policeman doesn’t bother to explain why he’s there, and Riktor is too afraid to ask. He knows he’s guilty of a terrible crime and he’s sure the policeman has found him out.
But when the policeman finally does confront him, Riktor freezes. The man is arresting him for something totally unexpected. Riktor doesn’t have a clear conscience, but the crime he’s being accused of is one he certainly didn’t commit. Can he clear his name without further incriminating himself?
The Exiled by Kati Hiekkapelto. When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life.
Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members – and the police themselves. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.
The Dead of Summer (Anders Knutas #5) by Mari Jungstedt. While vacationing on the Swedish island Gotland, a young father of two is shot on the beach while jogging. Assistant commissioner Karin Jacobsson, who must lead the investigation while Anders Knutas is on vacation, is at a loss until another horrific crime is committed. Mari Jungstedt successfully combines a thrilling, raw crime novel with a multilayered relational drama.
Detective Inspector Huss (Inspector Huss #1) by Helene Tursten. Inspector Irene Huss, stationed in Göteborg, is called through the rain-drenched wintry streets to the scene of an apparent suicide. The dead man landed on the sidewalk in front of his luxurious duplex apartment. He was a wealthy financier connected, through an old-boys’ network, with the first families of Sweden.
But the “Society Suicide” turns out to have been a carefully plotted murder. As more murders ensue, she tangles with street gang members, skinheads, immigrants and neo-Nazis—a cross-section of Sweden’s disaffected—in order to catch the killer.
Fear Not – or Modus – (Vik & Stubø #4) by Anne Holt. The silent, snow-covered streets of Oslo are a perfect scene of Christmas tranquillity. But over the tolling of bells for the last Sunday of Advent, a black note sounds. A boy’s body washes up near the shoreline of the city’s Aker Bridge. His corpse is bloated by the water, almost unrecognisable. Nobody has even bothered to report him missing.
One week later, the bishop of Bergen is found stabbed to death on a deserted street. Eva Karin Lysgaard is a popular public figure, a sixty-two year-old grandmother: why was she on a lone errand in the deserted city, on the night before Christmas?
Johanne Vik, criminal researcher and police profiler, is called in to untangle the motivation behind the bishop’s murder. But with her husband at the head of this increasingly high-profile investigation, Vik’s association with the case is under intense scrutiny. And why does Lysgaard’s shocking death lead her towards the sad death of an unknown boy?
The Island of Naked Women by Inger Frimansson. Tobias, an author of mystery novels, must return to the family farm after his father became incapacitated due to a fall from the hayloft. Tobias resents his father’s judgmental attitude, but he finds the allure of his father’s young wife Sabina hard to resist.
Meanwhile, Hardy, the hired hand, scoffs at Tobias’s city ways, while encouraging Sabina’s mentally challenged son Adam to turn into an Elvis impersonator; and Ingelize, who runs a nearby riding school, finds Tobias irresistible. The rural life becomes increasingly claustrophobic for Tobias, but before he can return to the city, death strikes a hard blow and chaos ensues.
The Boy in the Suitcase (Nina Borg, #1) by Lene Kaaberbøl. This Nordic noir from Denmark starts a bit slow but quickly gets interesting.
Nina Borg, a Red Cross nurse, wife, and mother of two, is a compulsive do-gooder who can’t say no when someone asks for help—even when she knows better. When her estranged friend Karin leaves her a key to a public locker in the Copenhagen train station, Nina gets suckered into her most dangerous project yet. Inside the locker is a suitcase, and inside the suitcase is a three-year-old boy: naked and drugged, but alive.
Is the boy a victim of child trafficking? Can he be turned over to authorities, or will they only return him to whoever sold him? When Karin is discovered brutally murdered, Nina realizes that her life and the boy’s are in jeopardy, too. In an increasingly desperate trek across Denmark, Nina tries to figure out who the boy is, where he belongs, and who exactly is trying to hunt him down.
As Black As Ebony (Snow White Trilogy) by Salla Simukka. The final story in the thrilling Nordic crime series The Snow White Trilogy.
Lumikki Andersson must uncover a dark personal truth to outwit her murderous stalker…Lumikki has a new boyfriend – easygoing, gorgeous Sampsa – but she is unfaithful in her dreams, longing for the electrifying touch of her ex, Blaze. Then the threats start arriving, from someone who seems to know Lumikki intimately.
Sharing her fears risks deadly consequences, so now she is more alone than ever. When Blaze suddenly reappears, Lumikki is torn. She can’t deny the chemistry between them, but can she trust him? To stop the killer, Lumikki must uncover a dark secret that has haunted her family for years.
Borderline (Annika Bengtzon, #9) by Liza Marklund. Annika Bengtzon is back at Kvällspressen’s Stockholm offices after three years as the newspaper’s Washington, DC correspondent. One afternoon, a young woman is found dead behind a nursery school in a Stockholm suburb. She is the fourth victim with the same characteristics: a young mother, stabbed from behind. In the editorial offices of Kvällspressen they sense a serial killer, but Annika dismisses it as a wild fantasy.
Meanwhile, her husband Thomas is attending an international conference in Nairobi, Kenya. During a reconnaissance trip to the Somali border the entire delegation of seven European envoys is kidnapped.
As the murder spree in Stockholm continues, Annika is dragged into a violent hostage situation that shakes both Europe and East Africa. When their unreasonable demands are rejected, the kidnappers begin to execute the hostages, one by one.
The titles featuring this female reporter are among our favorite commercial novels.
The Last Lullaby: Hammarby Book 3 by Carin Gerhardsen. Stockholm Criminal Investigator Conny Sjöberg finds a mother and her two young children lying peacefully in bed, their throats coldly and efficiently cut and no signs of a struggle.
As Conny and his team get to work they draw a blank on both motive and suspect for these cruel, senseless murders. The only lead they have is a mysterious benefactor of the family – who eludes their every search.
Distracted and hampered by the mysterious disappearance of one of their officers, Conny’s squad struggles on – until an astonishing discovery turns the case upside down and threatens to tear his team apart.
For Mystery Tribune’s archive of Nordic Noir reviews and articles including coverage of notable female writers, please visit here.