The Top Ten Swedish Thrillers
1. The Circle/The Fire/The Key (The Engelsfors Trilogy) by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren
This trilogy about teen witches from the small town of Engelsfors is just about the best you can read in the young-adult genre (and adults will be just as fascinated!). It’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer meets Twin Peaks meets The Craft
2. Echoes from the Dead (and the rest of the Öland Quartet) by Johan Theorin
This first book of the Öland Quartet is as chilling as the raw winters on the Swedish island Öland. A six-year-old boy disappears in the fog; twenty years later, his mother receives his sandal in the mail. A parent’s absolute nightmare—and a book impossible to put down.
3. Let Me In by John Ajvide Lindqvist Vampires in a dilapidated suburb of Stockholm might sound like a weird idea for a book, but actually it works—literally—like a charm. After reading this book, you’ll never feel the same way about a lamppost light going out on a walk home at night.
4. The Kurt Wallander Series by Henning Mankell
This series is about the unhappy, divorced, classical music–loving homicide investigator Kurt Wallander in Ystad, the southernmost part of Sweden. It’s groundbreaking, being one of the first series of Swedish crime novels; it opened the door for the whole wave of Scandinavian noir. A bonus is the fabulous supporting character of Kurt Wallander’s father, an angry artist who paints the same capercaillie over and over again, book after boo.
5. Blackwater by Kerstin Ekman This book features a cultlike community in the north of Sweden, an unsolved murder, and a cast of characters that I still have a love/hate relationship with. . . even though it’s been more than twenty years since I first read Blackwater. If you want to feel the beauty and the horror of the deep Swedish woods, this is the book for you.
6. The Man on the Balcony: A Martin Beck Police Mystery by Maj Sjöwall and Pär Wahlöö If we’re talking about trailblazers in Scandinavian noir, it would be impossible not to mention the duo of Sjöwall and Wahlöö. This third book in the Martin Beck Series finds Beck investigating a string of child murders. It was made into an iconic Swedish film; check it out to see Sweden in its ’70s prime!
7. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (and the rest of the Millennium Series) by Stieg Larsson An international bestseller that was made into a film by David Fincher, this first book in the series is amazing. The unforgettable hacker/ninja fighter Lisbeth Salander teams up with journalist Mikael Blomkvist to investigate an old crime that ends up being just the tip of the iceberg.
8. The Brothers Lionheart by Astrid Lindgren Not really a crime novel but a dark tale by the author of Pippi Longstocking that probably inspired every Swedish writer interested in the evil of mankind. Read it with your kids, or read it for yourself—it’s a children’s book that takes on the big questions, life and death among them.
9. No More Murders! by Maria Lang Maria Lang is the closest to Agatha Christie that we have in Sweden. There are as many cakes and cozy houses in the countryside as there are murders in her books. Get as many as you can find in English, curl up with a blanket and a big cup of tea (and probably some cake as well), and immerse yourself in the most picturesque crime scenes in the history of jigsaw puzzle mysteries. (P.S.: The Swedish word fika means “eating cake and hanging out.” About 50 percent of the content of these books is related to fika.)
10. The Invisible Man from Salem (and the rest of the Leo Junker Series) by Christoffer Carlsson Christoffer Carlsson is one of Sweden’s best contemporary crime writers, and his series about the troubled police officer Leo Junker is well worth reading. In the first book we find him in a really bad place, suspended after a shooting incident, waking up in the middle of the night to the sound of police sirens and with a crime scene next door. And from there it really doesn’t get any better for our hero. But an absolute thriller especially if you—like I am—are into the dark side.
Asa Avdic is the author of the debut novel The Dying Game (A Penguin Original Mystery; on sale August 1, 2017) and a journalist. For years she was a presenter for Swedish Public Service Radio and Television; currently, she is a host of Sweden’s biggest morning current events program. She lives with her family in Stockholm, although her grandmother was born in Butte, Montana, and grew up in Chicago.