A chilly north European wind has swept over the TV, film and book world recently. Barry Forshaw, author of Death in a Cold Climate: A Guide to Scandinavian Crime Fiction, reveals the bare necessities when penning an ice-cold thriller.

Give your hero a bunch of problems

Detectives in Scandinavian novels tend to be damaged goods, so don’t be afraid to pile on the neuroses. "Kurt Wallander is one of crime fiction’s crucial creations," says Forshaw. "His spiralling weight and diabetes don’t help, and his private life is a mess. Make the relationships with their parents and/or kids as fraught as possible."

Don’t shy away from a bit of bloodshed

This is, after all, crime fiction. "Jo Nesbø’s The Redeemer is a cocktail of urban decay and gruesome violence," explains Forshaw. "This can also be found in Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s Last Ritual, but the yardstick is the violence surrounding Lisbeth Salander in Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo."

Match the setting with your story

The setting of a Scandinavian thriller is as crucial as the characters and the plot – and locations are arguably also characters. "Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow by Peter Høeg gets it just right, transfixing the reader with its stunning use of Copenhagen locales and whiteout weather, so traumatic for the damaged, snow-sensitive heroine."

Read up on your peers’ work

Do your research and be willing to learn from the best. "Don’t miss ex-criminal and criminologist duo Roslund and Hellström, the cosier Camilla Läckberg and Anne Holt, king of the Nordic private-dick saga Gunnar Staalesen, the atmospheric Johan Theorin and the darker Jussi Adler-Olsen and Karin Fossum. All are essential."

Blur the boundaries of good and evil

Arnaldur Indriđason’s Silence of the Grave contains a good example of a character flitting between both sides of the law. "A murdered man’s computer is found to contain pornography, and it transpires that he has been accused of rape," says Forshaw. "The moral boundaries are unclear." This kind of uncertainty makes for engaging reading.

Think about the big (and small) screens

Swedish TV and film production company Yellow Bird’s tagline is: "We turn best-sellers into blockbusters." Or set your sights higher and go to Hollywood: David Fincher has remade The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and Martin Scorsese has signed up to film Nesbø’s The Snowman. And why write one book, when you can pen a whole series?


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