Nordic Christmas must have book list

Christmas is a time to be with family and friends, to eat well and enjoy the time off from work and the every day stresses.
The build up to Christmas brings most adults back to their childhoods of putting up decorations, lighting candles, singing carols and watching Christmas films.

But what better way as an adult to visualise the cold, dark month of Christmas and to have a small escapism from one of the busiest months of the year than with a good book.

Sit by the fire, cuddle up in a warm blanket, have a Yuletide drink and let your mind wander with one of the Nordics greatest authors.

Allow the author to wrap intrigue and suspense around this cold winter month; listen out for the clues drowned out by the Christmas choir; and be aware of the suspect lurking behind the scene of family celebration, leaving only their footprints in the snow. The white blanket across this stunning Nordic region gives misguidance to the onlooker who only sees a tranquil setting, they are without knowledge of any wrong doings which are lying stagnant below the surface.

The Nordic regions are the perfect back drop to crime thriller stories.
The festivities of Christmas brings a definite juxtaposition to the reader,a combination of the most happiest time of the year running parallel alongside some of the most intense crimes which are cleverly brought to the reader by my top 5 Christmas recommendations of the year.

Henning Mankell – The Pyramid Henning Mankell-The Pyramid

This is my must have Detective Wallander mystery book. This book is cleverly made up of 5 small crime stories which defined Kurt Wallander as we know him now. These 5 different cases were catalysts for decisions which Kurt Wallander made, how he was shaped as a detective and how he goes on to allow his career to consume him and sometimes alienate those around him.

One of the crucial stories is set on Christmas Eve. We find Wallander in 1975 still living in Malmo but about to make the career changing move to Ystad. The cracks are starting to appear in Wallander and Monas marriage due to the demanding life as a policeman, we are also aware of the emotional burden Wallander has with not spending all the time he would like to with his daughter Linda.

Wallander is on his way home and looking forward to the Christmas period ahead and having time off to spend with his family. But just as he is about to leave a call comes in that an old lady by the name of Elga Hagman has phoned to say a suspicious man s loitering around her shop.

Somewhat dismissive and with the conclusion that this call is a lonely lady wanting some Christmas company Wallanders supervisor, Hemberg asks Wallander to check out the situation on his drive home.
This sets in motion the realisation of the dangers of the job, the intense feeling of fear which has a strange way of keeping detectives going back for more and decisions that will be forced to the forefront of the path Kurt Wallander met choose to take as on Christmas Eve 1975 a young Wallander opens the door to the shop of Elga Hagman to be greeted by deafening silence, a dead body and a masked man hiding in the shadows, armed and ready to fight for his life.

Christmas would change for Wallander and his young family forever.

Arnaldur Indridason – Voice Arnaldur Indriðason-Voices

Arnaldur Indridason has scooped the award for most Christmassy crime story as this case for Inspector Erlendur is based around the discovery of a murdered Father Christmas in a  Reykjavik hotel.
The Christmas theme is set, we have a glimpse into the busy time of people rushing around, too busy to stop and talk, too stressed to contemplate what is happening around them and too focused on the celebrations ahead to notice the events that have passed.

Yet time freezes for a second for Inspector Erlendur as he enters the confusing crime scene of a frenzied attack.

Erlendur is challenged by the owner of the hotel who is desperate to keep this unusual murder in his hotel quiet from his guests who keep on arriving to enjoy the very best of an Icelandic Christmas. As Erlendur digs deeper into the crime and background of the victim he discovers a murky history which throws up different leads. But Arnaldur Indridason is a clever man as this book is not just about a crime at Christmas time, it goes deeper and the reader is made aware that for every child enjoying a warm, safe, exciting Christmas there is another whom Christmas has no meaning, it is just another day to be mistreated.

Christmas sometimes goes by so fast we miss the people left standing. This is highlighted by the plights in Erlendur’s personal life and Voices is for me the pivotal book where we really get inside Erlendurs mind set that makes him the inspector that he is.

Liza Marklund – The Bomber Liza Marklund - the Bomber

With just a week to go until Christmas the scene is set. High festivities; bright lights and wreaths adorning the city of Stockholm; and a buzz that can hide the most extravagant of wrong doings that a perpetrator can commit whilst the distractions gain pace.

Annika Bengtzon is sleeping soundly for a change from her demanding job as crime reporter at the local newspaper when she is awoken by a phone all by her editor to get to the Olympic Stadium as it is on fire. Annika is eager to be the first to get a report out and to make a name for herself rushes to the stadium only to see a casualty being taken away. She manages to dig around and finds out via a source that the fire which has now been established as caused by an explosion has claimed one life and that life is none other than Christina Furhage who was a very powerful woman in Stockholm.

Annika also discovers that the alarms were sabotaged as not to alert the emergency services sooner indicating an inside job. But Annika is sworn to secrecy so is frustrated when her editor and colleagues at the paper automatically look at it being a terrorist attack.

The story, set around Christmas, sees Annika struggling with being at home with her husband and daughter whilst trying to track down the truth and lies behind this bombing.

Whilst we peer inside the emotions and gut feelings from Annika we are also exposed to those from the bomber. Guiding us through the story we are invited to watch as the Christmas horror in Stockholm unfold and how it effects the life’s of the ordinary trying to enjoy what should of been a merry Christmas.

Arne Dahl – To the top of the Mountain Arne Dahl - To the top of the Mountain

We end this by looking at Arne Dahl’s offering.

The book I have chosen as a must read for the Christmas period is To the Top of the Mountain.
It doesn’t have a Christmas theme like the others but the sheer indulgence in Nordic backdrops, family entanglements and the feeling of a build up to something which is going to happen runs through this novel, so with an open fire, Christmas candles lit and a mug of something hot to drink you can certainly enjoy the Nordic feel to a good crime thriller.

To the Top of the Mountain sees our formidable team brought back together after going off in different directions since their last assignment. They are not brought back together though by a friends wedding or a police awards ceremony, 5 dead bodies on an industrial estate is the invite and the guests have to find the party instigator.

What seems to start out as a simple case turns out to be highly dangerous with many paths to cross. The team are still struggling with under currents in their relationships and Arne Dahl cleverly reminds us of this and follows on the personal story lines in the background.

The team, as always, bring out the best in each other and sometimes the worst, but their worst traits are sometimes what solves the crime and we are at the end once again endeared to the characters and await with baited breath for the next instalment.

I did get to speak to Arne Dahl and ask him  ‘What do you enjoy the most about a traditional Nordic Christmas?’

“There are a few things absolutely necessary for a classic Swedish Christmas. The first one is snow. The Nordic darkness in the winter needs the snow to at least uphold the illusion of light. That’s really quite enough. But then of course we need the Christmas tree, the herring, the sausages, the meatballs, the peculiar course named ”Janssons frestelse”. And the booze.”

Jo Nesbo – The Redeemer Jo Nesbo-The Redeemer-nordic-christmas

Undoubtedly one of my top five authors has to be Jo Nesbo. He hails from Norway where the pure essence of Christmas is to celebrate this time with friends and family and to light up the vast sometimes solitary landscape with candles and inviting smells from the kitchen.

Jo Nesbo has managed to bring us a novel which cuts through the heart of a Norwegian Christmas and pierce through the voices of The Salvation Army choir trying to spread good will to busy shoppers at this manic time.

The Redeemer introduces us into this novel 12 years prior at a Salvation Army summer camp when the safety and security for these carefree teenagers is shattered, a 14 year old girl has just been viciously raped.

We are brought forward 12 years on a market square in Oslo at Christmas time. A shot rings out on a bustling Norwegian street whilst the Salvation Army choir are singing, but then one of their own members falls to the ground dead. In steps Harry Hole the formidable detective, and he picks up the scent to catch the killer. There is no motive and no witnesses, this seems the perfect crime, until the killer realises he has just killed the wrong man.

This book is fast paced and entwines different decades, motives and stories lines but still manages to keep the reader on an even keel when it comes to understanding where the story is going and where it has come from.

This is not just about that one shot, that one Salvation army helper or that one act of revenge. This story brings in smaller wrong doings behind different doors at what should be a joyous time of the year.

Check out the Nordic Christmas book review in our Christmas issue

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