Choose your Easter Thriller!

A guide to Norwegian crime and mystery authors to help you celebrate properly

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

Norwegians will be on holiday from Holy Thursday through Easter Monday and almost everyone will be reading a crime novel. If you would like to adopt this tradition, here are some suggestions for your reading material.

Thanks to the huge success of Swedish Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, Scandinavian thrillers are in great demand in the US. We are fortunate that it is very easy to find English translations of many of the Norwegian authors.

book cover of crime novel "The Redbreast" by Jo Nesbø

Jo Nesbø is probably the most popular Norwegian author in the United States today. He has written eleven novels featuring Harry Hole, a tough Oslo detective. My favorites are The Redbreast, The Devil’s Star, and The Snowman. His novels do have a certain amount of disturbing violence in them but his characters are very well developed and his plots unusual and intriguing. He was a journalist and a stockbroker before he began his writing career. He also has a musical career as a vocalist and songwriter for Di Derre, a successful Norwegian rock band.

book cover for crime novel "Don't Look Back" by Karin Fossum

Karin Fossum is Norway’s Queen of Crime. Like Nesbø’s her crime novels are psychological thrillers. She lets the reader get inside the heads of all of her characters – the perps, the victims, and the police. Her star character is Inspector Konrad Sejer who is based outside of Oslo and deals with crimes in small towns and villages. While it is hard to single out any one of her books, I would say my favorites are Don’t Look Back, He Who Fears the Wolf, and The Caller. Fossum began her writing career as a poet. Her first collection was published when she was only 20. She also worked in hospitals and nursing homes and helped rehabilitate drug addicts. This experience is evident in many of her novels.

Harry Hole and Konrad Sejer couldn’t be more different individuals. Harry is an alcoholic who has difficulty getting along with people and likes to go his own way, often against the orders of his superiors. He is, however, brilliant at solving crimes. Sejer, on the other hand, is a quiet, thoughtful man who is well liked by everyone. He, too, is very good at what he does.


Anne Holt is another successful author with an interesting background. After becoming a lawyer, she had her own law practice, then worked in the Oslo Police Department, and also served as Minister of Justice in the Jagland Cabinet in 1996-97. Hanne Wilhelmsen, a lesbian police officer, is the protagonist in most of her crime novels. In Holt’s first novel Blind Goddess (1993), Hanne is young, beautiful, and likeable but in future novels she has become a rather unpleasant woman after being confined to a wheelchair because of a gunshot injury that left her paralyzed. I think my favorite Holt book is 1222, which is reminiscent in structure of Agatha Christie. After a train accident in the mountains, the passengers are moved to a hotel where they become cut off from the outside world because of a very severe snowstorm. And, while no one can get in or out, a murder takes place. Fortunately, Hanne was one of the passengers on board the train and she is available to solve the mystery! I would also recommend a non-Hanne Wilhelmsen novel, What is Mine. It is the first in a three-book series with ex-FBI profiler Vik and police detective Stubo as protagonists. Holt’s writing reflects her legal background and experience which is definitely a plus for Americans eager to learn more about Norwegian culture.


K.O. Dahl is another widely-acclaimed Norwegian crime writer, dubbed “Norway’s answer to Henning Mankell.” His police procedurals feature Oslo detectives Frank Frølich and Chief Inspector Gunnarstranda. Four have been translated into English: The Fourth Man, The Man in the Window, The Last Fix, and Lethal Investments.

Two crime novelists have had films made of many of their books. One is Gunnar Staaelesen, the author of the books featuring the very popular Varg Veum, the lone wolf private detective in Bergen. (When you are in Bergen, be sure to look for the statue of Varg.) The other is Unni Lindell, the author of the series featuring Oslo homicide detective Cato Isaksen. Both film series are readily available on DVD in the US.

Other important Norwegian crime novelists worth noting are Thomas Enger (Burned), Jørn Lier Horst (Key Witness), and Vidar Sundstol (The Minnesota Trilogy).

This is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are looking for a Norwegian Easter thriller, you will find an embarrassment of riches!

This article originally appeared in the April 18, 2014 issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.

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Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.