Nordic and Scandinavian Noir Explained

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Photo montage of books and TV shows in the Nordic or Scandinavian noir genre. Top left: Martin Beck books, Top Centre: image from Beck TV show, Top Right: Arne Dahl book image, Bottom Right: image from Arne Dahl TV show, Bottom Centre: Henning Mankell Wallander book Faceless Killers, Bottom Left: image from Wallander TV show.

🇸🇪🇩🇰Nordic and Scandinavian Noir🇳🇴🇫🇮🇮🇸

This article aims to take a look at Nordic and Scandinavian noir. Firstly we look at how the terms came about, where and when they are used. Then how the genre came to be in literature, the founders, examples of other writers and some TV shows and films that fall into the genre. Finally looking at the very specific features of the genre. 

The Terms: 

In the English-speaking world, the term “Nordic noir” was coined by the Scandinavian Department at the University College of London. The term is considered typical of a phenomenon seen as uniting the viewpoint of the “foreign eye” towards recognizable Nordic context. “Nordic noir” remains a foreign term, since it is not used in the Nordic countries.

The terms “Nordic noir”, “Scandinavian noir” and “Scandi noir” are used largely interchangeably in English.

Scandinavia consists of Denmark, Norway and Sweden. These are countries that are linguistically (North Germanic) ethnically and culturally very closely related to one another.

Nordic countries, however, are a broader group that also include countries in the traditional Scandinavian sphere of political and cultural influence e.g. Finland which is mainly Finnish-speaking (Finnish is not a North Germanic language) and culturally distinct from Scandinavia.

The Founders: 

There is a degree of disagreement among academics as to the exact “start” of Nordic or Scandi noir. 

Generally, however, the couple Per Wahlöö & Maj Sjöwall, who co-wrote the Martin Beck series of novels, are regarded as the founders. They were Marxist writers who were inspired by the American author, Ed McBain. Their idea being that the stories revolving around a detective, his colleagues and a variety of criminal cases could be a vehicle for social commentary and analysis of Scandinavian culture. 

Some Other Writers: 

Henning Menkell, who wrote the Kurt Wallander series (he accepted the Beck writers as the ground breakers), which inspired the TV series starring both Krister Henriksson and Rolf Lassgård. 

Peter Høeg ~ Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow is another book which was pivotal in the development of the genre. 

Kristina Ohlsson’s novels the first of which the show Stockholm Requiem is based upon.

Image of atmospheric, foggy forest.

Other TV and Films:

Series such as The Killing (Forbrydelsen “The Crime”) and The Bridge (Danish Broen, Swedish Bron), Rebecka Martinsson and films such as The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, In Order of Disappearance etc. All these fall into the Nordic/Scandi noir genre.

Common Features: 

The language used, heroes and settings are the three common features of the genre. Nordic or Scandi noir features a plain, direct writing style without the use of metaphor. Novels are often police procedurals which focus on the monotonous, day-to-day work of the police. They often involve the simultaneous investigation of several crimes. You can see how these three features are played out onto the screen in both movies and shows. 


A version of this article first appeared on the Official Facebook Fan Page of Alexej Manvelov, the Swedish-Russian actor who has appeared in Nordic shows such as: Stockholm Requiem, Occupied, Before We Die, The Dying Detective, Arne Dahl and Beck. This fan page has now evolved into the Nordic/Scandi FanFocus page:

Link to fan page:

Other Links:

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Finnish TV Shows:

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