Three expert crime fiction and film fanatics share their secrets with you!
THE NORWEGIAN AMERICAN
When, exactly, the Norwegian cultural phenomenon of påskekrim—Easter crime—began is a bit of a mystery in itself. One of the most accepted origin stories looks to a clever marketing campaign for the 1923 novel Bergenstoget plyndret i natt (Bergen train robbed last night) by Jonatan Jerv, a combined pseudonym for Norwegian authors Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie. The book’s publishing editor, Harald Grieg (Nordahl’s brother), had purchased large ad space in the Saturday issue of Aftenposten the day before Palm Sunday in 1923. The ads for the book appeared as headlines mimicking news stories about the fictional train robbery, confusing readers and resulting in panicked phone calls at the newspaper.
By the 1980s, påskekrim had become an essential part of Norwegian customs during the long Easter break, when most stores are closed and Norwegians stay home, head to the cabin for some skiing and contemplative time, or take a vacation to “the South” along the Mediterranean. In the days of quiet and a slower pace, there is plenty of time to take in a procedural crime drama, whether in the pages of a book or on TV.
Today, in April 2020, most of us find ourselves in a strangely similar position to Norwegians during the Easter holiday: we are staying in and social distancing, as we all work together to “flatten the curve” and halt the spread of the coronavirus.
For these remarkable times, The Norwegian American has put together a panel of “experts” (two pretend ones and one real one) to offer a list of our favorite Nordic Noir picks to enliven your mind in both Holy Week and this time of social distance.
Along with Editor-in-chief Lori Ann Reinhall and Assistant Editor Andy Meyer, our panel features Dr. Andrew Nestingen, chair of the University of Washington Department of Scandinavian Studies in Seattle and expert in Nordic Noir. Along with numerous articles, essays, and a book on the topic, Nestingen’s recent books include Scandinavian Crime Fiction (2011), co-edited with Paula Arvas, and Nordic Noir, Adaptation, Appropriation (2020), co-edited with Linda Badley and Jaakko Seppälä.
With that, we offer The Norwegian American’s påskekrim picks!
Påskekrim is a highlight of the Norwegian bookselling season. In the other Nordic countries, detective season is summer. In Norway, they start a little earlier with påskekrim, a seasonal marketing push to deliver the year’s top new crime novels in time for readers to take them off to their Easter holidays.
This year, crime novels will come in handy as Norwegians, Americans, and most of the world shelter in place due to the coronavirus pandemic. Such towering Norwegian crime writers as Jo Nesbø, Karin Fossum, Anne Holt, and Gunnar Staalesen are always top picks and have had their careers advanced by the Easter crime season. Here are a few picks for readers (and viewers), wherever you find yourself.
Don’t Look Back by Karin Fossum
This is Fossum’s best novel, capturing her subtlety, thematic complexity, and narrative drive. The novel is set in bygde-Norway, in a small town at the end of a fjord. An adolescent girl Annie is found murdered at a scenic lake. On the surface, all seems to be well in the town. Yet, when Fossum’s Inspector Sejer begins probing, hidden motives surface. The novel is brought to a high level by its Orpheus theme. Annie is Eurydice to her boyfriend Halvor’s Orpheus. In the myth, Orpheus descends to the underworld in pursuit of his deceased beloved, Eurydice. He persuades Hades to let him take Eurydice back but agrees that he will not look back. Just as the two return to the world of the living, Orpheus turns back. Eurydice falls back into the realm of Hades. Fossum takes this meditation on love, fate, and the weight of the past, and weaves it into her excellent crime novel. A final attribute: Don’t Look Back does not concern a sex crime.
Okkupert (Occupied), Season 1
(TV, 2015; streaming on Netflix)
Norway’s most famous television series imagines a future changed by global warming. Struggles over energy sources have intensified. Norway’s proposal to embrace a new, domestically produced, clean source of energy leads to an invasion by fossil-fuel power Russia, and realist geopolitics that leave Norway isolated between East and West. The show has an apocalyptic tone, which sharpens the plot and acting into a dagger blade.
The Snowman (Snømannen), by Jo Nesbø
Norway’s most famous crime writer’s best novel, albeit one with some serious weaknesses, not least some casual misogyny. What elevates this novel is Nesbø’s effort to engage some of the themes of Henrik Ibsen’s masterpiece, Vildanden (The Wild Duck, 1884). Ibsen’s play concerns the way imagination transports and inspires us, but also how imagination allows us to lie to ourselves and others. We may tell such lies to make ourselves feel better, even to survive. But shouldn’t we tell the truth? What happens when an idealist comes along, determined to tell the truth and destroy the lies? The idealist in Nesbø’s novel is the murderer, hell-bent on punishing infidelity and illegitimacy with spectacular violence. Nesbø’s novel has drive and ideas. Note: strong sexual content and graphic violence.
After these novels and shows, you might want to stay sheltered in place!
Lori Ann Reinhall
Yes, it’s true: your editor-in-chief is a Nordic film addict. If a Norwegian Noir film or TV series is available on DVD or streaming, you can place your bets that she’s seen it or has it in her queue. According to Lori Ann, there are too many good flicks to mention, but here are six for you to enjoy this påskekrim season:
Varg Veum, Seasons 1 & 2
(TV, 2007, 2010; streaming on Amazon Prime and MHz Choice)
Varg Veum is the central character in a series of crime novels, written by the Norwegian author Gunnar Staalesen, about a private detective who lives in Bergen, on the west coast of Norway. Six films were produced based on the books, all shot on location in Norway. There is too much suspense and excitement to explain: you’ll just have to see the entire series during your week of Easter crime!
(film, 2014; available on Amazon Prime, iTunes, Google Play, and YouTube)
This Norwegian-German thriller stars acclaimed actresses Juliane Köhler and Liv Ullmann. Set in Norway and Germany, it explores the history of the Lebensborn or war children, born in Norway and raised in Germany. It explores the life of a grown woman who had claimed to have escaped from East Germany and her Norwegian mother, with whom she is reunited. The film captures the Bergen Noir atmosphere at its best.
(film, 2017; available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and YouTube)
Based on Jo Nesbø’s book, this psychological crime horror thriller has an all-star international cast with Michael Fassbender, Charlotte Gainsbourg, and Val Kilmer in leading roles. It follows detective Harry Hole, who tries to find a serial killer who uses snowmen as his calling card. Misunderstood and underrated by many film critics, this English-language production is a must-see for Nesbø fans—and everyone else, for that matter.
(film, 2012; available on Tubi, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime)
A Norwegian action thriller film based on the novel of the same name by Jo Nesbø stars Aksel Henie as Roger Brown, a successful but insecure corporate recruiter who lives a double life as an art thief to fund his lavish lifestyle. He finds out that one of his job prospects is in possession of a valuable painting and sets out to steal it. An unusual plot full of action, the suspense will keep you on the edge of your seat from beginning to end—uff da, will it ever!
In Order of Disappearance
(film, 2014; available on Tubi, iTunes, Google Play, YouTube, Vudu, and Amazon Prime)
Stellan Skarsgård fans, brace yourself: you will see your favorite Swedish actor at his best in this pan-Nordic production that tells story of Nils, a snowplow driver, who seeks revenge after his son is murdered by drug dealers. He plows through the snow in the wild winter mountains of Norway and finds himself caught in the middle of a mafia blood feud. Enjoy suspense in the snow during dark Nordic nights with this heavy machinery thriller.
Lords of Chaos
(film, 2019; available on Amazon Prime, Google Play, Vudu, and Hulu)
In the past, some have wondered whether this film is so bad that it’s good, but in the end, it’s worth seeing, as it documents a dark episode in the history of black metal music, an extreme subgenre of heavy metal music with its origins in Norway. The film features English-speaking actors but is shot on location in Bergen and Oslo.
Andy is Assistant Editor at The Norwegian American, but he also has a doctorate in English literature and teaches Norwegian at the University of Washington. Needless to say, he takes his Norwegian crime fiction and cinema very seriously, offering another well-educated perspective on the genre.
(TV, 2020; streaming on HBO)
Norway’s newest contribution to the international TV market, Beforeigners is premised on a supernatural phenomenon in the waters of Oslofjord: people are mysteriously showing up along the shores of the city, but they’re not from elsewhere, they’re from an else-when. The arrivals, moreover, aren’t from random times in history, but from the Stone Age, the Viking era, and the Victorian period—and, like today’s immigrants, they must integrate into a society foreign to them. Thus, the show, by way of Norwegian detectives Lars Haaland and newly minted officer from the Viking era, Alfhildr Enginnsdottir, explores how society deals with difference and prejudice, with a trans-temporal murder mystery thrown in for good measure.
The Bridge, Season 1
(TV, 2011; available on iTunes, Amazon Prime, Google Play, YouTube, and Vudu)
Although it’s not Norwegian, The Bridge (Broen/Bron in the Scandinavian market) is one of my favorite Scandinavian shows and one of the best crime shows overall. The series begins with a body discovered at the midpoint of Öresund Bridge between Malmö and Copenhagen, straddling the international boundary. The detectives assigned to the case, Saga Norén from Malmö and Martin Rohde from Copenhagen, must cooperate to solve the case, juxtaposing their cultural habits and styles as well as their personalities and values. The show highlights one of the hallmarks of good Nordic Noir: the personal struggles and triumphs of the detectives themselves are interwoven with the solving of the case.
(film, 1997; available on iTunes and Amazon Prime)
One of the earliest feature films that qualifies as Nordic Noir, Insomnia follows a Swedish detective (played by Stellan Skaarsgård) to a northern Norwegian town in the summer to investigate a horrific murder. Incorporating both nature and culture into the energy of the narrative, the grisliness of the murder case and the relentless midnight sun combine to play havoc on the investigator’s own grip on sanity.
The Minnesota Trilogy, by Vidar Sundstøl
(books, 2014, 2015, 2016)
Few things are more Norwegian-American than Vidar Sundstøl’s critically acclaimed Minnesota Trilogy, consisting of three mystery novels, The Land of Dreams, Only the Dead, and The Ravens. All three novels take place on the North Shore of Lake Superior, after a second-generation Norwegian-American Forest Service officer stumbles across the murdered body of a Norwegian tourist. An American FBI agent is assigned to the case and Norwegian detective Eirik Nyland is flown in from Oslo. As the novels progress, the international crime grows increasingly complex, interwoven with Ojibwe history, local lore, and beloved landscapes like Minnesota’s Boundary Waters.
This article originally appeared in the April 3, 2020, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.