Nordic noir, also known as Scandinavian noir or Scandi noir, is a genre of crime fiction often written from a police point of view and set in either Scandinavia or the Nordic Countries. The language is plain and deliberately avoids metaphor, the settings often have bleak landscapes, and the mood is dark and morally complex. The genre depicts a tension between the apparently still and bland social surface in the Nordic countries, and the murder, misogyny, rape, and racism it depicts as lying underneath. It contrasts with the whodunit style such as the English country house murder mystery. Frequently featuring a female protagonist, the popularity of the genre has extended to film and television, such as The Killing and its American adaptation, Marcella, and The Bridge and its French-British and American adaptations.
Henning Mankell notes that the Martin Beck series of novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö "broke with the previous trends in crime fiction" and pioneered a new style: "They were influenced and inspired by the American writer Ed McBain. They realized that there was a huge unexplored territory in which crime novels could form the framework for stories containing social criticism." Kerstin Bergman notes that "what made Sjöwall and Wahlöö's novels stand out from previous crime fiction – and what made it so influential in the following decades – was, above all, the conscious inclusion of a critical perspective on Swedish society."
Bergman also claims that "it was not until Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy (2005–07) that Swedish crime fiction truly became a worldwide phenomenon." However, British author Barry Forshaw, writing in Nordic Noir, suggests that Peter Høeg's atmospheric novel Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow as being "massively influential" in being the true progenitor of the "Scandinavian New Wave" and, by setting its counter-intuitive heroine in Copenhagen and Greenland, inaugurates the current Scandinavian crime wave.
One critic opines, "Nordic crime fiction carries a more respectable cachet... than similar genre fiction produced in Britain or the US". Language, heroes and settings are three commonalities in the genre, which features plain, direct writing style without metaphor.
The novels are often of the police procedural subgenre, focusing on the monotonous, day-to-day work of police, though not always involving the simultaneous investigation of several crimes. Examples include The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels by Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell's Kurt Wallander detective series, and Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's Martin Beck novels.
Some critics attribute the genre's success to a distinctive and appealing style, "realistic, simple and precise... and stripped of unnecessary words". Their protagonists are typically detectives worn down by cares and far from simply heroic.
The works also owe something to Scandinavia's political system where the apparent equality, social justice, and liberalism of the Nordic model is seen to cover up dark secrets and hidden hatreds. Stieg Larsson's Millennium trilogy, for example, deals with misogyny and rape, while Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers focuses on Sweden’s failure to integrate its immigrant population.
The term "nordic noir" is also applied to films and television series in this genre, both adaptations of novels and original screenplays. Notable examples are The Killing, The Bridge, and Trapped, and Marcella.
At least one cultural commentator suggests the British but heavily Scandinavian-influenced Shetland Isles and Outer Hebrides have produced authors in an allied, if not precisely identical tradition. Best-known exponents being Ann Cleeves, whose Shetland books have been adapted for television, and Peter May's Lewis Trilogy. The relatively slower narrative pace of UK crime dramas Broadchurch, The Missing and River is also credited to the "Scandi noir" influence.
The English-language TV series based on Robert B. Parker's Jesse Stone novels has been likened to Nordic noir. Featuring Tom Selleck as the brooding, introspective, laconic hero with a stronger moral compass than the worthies of the town who recruited him specifically not to make trouble, the Paradise Police Department in the chill, bleak coastal community of Paradise, Massachusetts (loosely based on the real town of Marblehead) seems to be — at least visually and thematically — set firmly in the Scandinavian crime tradition not despite its setting but because of it.
Other English-language TV and cinematic adaptations have been more or less successful, although subtitled original programmes have proven more popular with British audiences. International adaptations such as Sky Television's French/British The Tunnel (adapted from the Swedish/Danish The Bridge) have their own identity whilst retaining a stylistic and thematic affinity with the original series. While American cinema brought the English language movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo to a worldwide audience, receiving plaudits and was a box-office success, the American adaptations such as The Killing have fared less well critically and have proven less popular in terms of audience reaction than original productions, an example being the enduring interest in Arne Dahl's Intercrime series, originally titled The A Team, and its TV adaptations.
Authors who have contributed to the creation and establishment of the "Nordic noir" genre include: