A decade out from the sudden death of Stieg Larsson – whose posthumously published Millennium trilogy has sold 75 million copies worldwide – the hunt for the next great thing in Nordic noir shows no signs of abating. Scandinavian thrillers now underpin a billion-dollar industry, with book sales that far exceed the populations of the home countries of Sweden, Norway, Iceland, and Denmark. It’s an unprecedented translation boom that has everyone from Scandinavian politicians to rock stars to engineers making the lucrative turn toward crime writing – and that has created a bizarro Scandinavia in the popular imagination, a violent and snow-locked territory littered with bodies and roamed by sociopaths.
As Jo Nesbø once joked to the Chicago Tribune, “In Norway, you know, there are typically 30 to 40 people murdered every year. That would be like two or three of my books.” But crime writing has never been about actual crime: It’s about the danger in the shadows around polite society. So it makes sense that some of the world’s most prosperous and civic-minded nations are also some of the best exporters, in recent years, of baroque variations on murder. There’s something powerful about watching a civic tranquility shattered by violence – and then puzzled back together again.
Larsson’s books introduced much of the reading world to the genre’s core DNA: police detectives sleuthing through intricate whodunits leavened by violence and rooted in issues of social justice. Larsson himself was foremost an activist and journalist who maintained archives of right-wing extremist movements in Sweden. The Millennium trilogy was a side project, something he reportedly wrote for pleasure and as a way to hopefully fund his other concerns. Last year, Larsson’s Swedish publisher announced plans to put out a ghostwritten sequel to The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest in August 2015, featuring Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander but departing entirely from notes left behind by Larsson, who’d started book four (and had plans for six more). Until then, there’s a whole dark, ice-cold universe of Nordic crime and redemption still to explore – more than a hundred titles are now available in English.