From Iceland — The Christmas Bloodbath: Your Guide To Icelandic Crime Novels

The Christmas Bloodbath: Your Guide To Icelandic Crime Novels

Published October 12, 2020

The Christmas Bloodbath: Your Guide To Icelandic Crime Novels
Valur Grettisson
Photo by
Art Bicnick & AdobeStock

There is, on average, one murder committed each year in Iceland. But, surprisingly, every Christmas brings a complete bloodbath in the bookstores. During the holiday season, Icelandic writers compete to kill their literary characters in as brutal a way as they can imagine. This, naturally, then draws out a flawed, depressed, down-on-their-luck investigator with a broken relationship with their only adult child, who has to, against all odds, solve the heinous crime. Welcome to the Scandinavian crime novel.

Although many writers have tried to write these dark stories, surprisingly few succeed. Still, while Iceland once boasted just two brilliant crime writers, now we have a ton.

The Queen Of Horror: Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

Photo by Art Bicnick

The Reykjavík Grapevine often mentions Yrsa Sigurðardóttir and for good reason. Yrsa is the queen of horror and Iceland crime. She’s also an engineer, which makes her murder stories creepily methodical and detailed. If that’s not enough, Yrsa was also once held in police custody in suspicion of being involved with the drug import trade, so she knows the shady details of crime better than anyone else on this list. To be clear, she wasn’t involved in drugs, but it’s still a cool backstory. Yrsa’s best work, in my opinion, is ‘My Soul To Take’, with our favourite heroine, Þóra Guðmundsdóttir. But you can’t go wrong with any of her books.

The King Of Killings: Arnaldur Indriðason

When talking about Icelandic crime literature, you must bow down to the literature crime king himself, Arnaldur Indriðason. In the late 90s, Arnaldur lost his job as a journalist and decided to try his hand as a crime writer—something that was more or less frowned upon at the time. But the author proved with his slick style and sharp focus that crime stories were more than just light reading. Now, he’s the father of modern Icelandic mysteries, an international household name and a yearly murderer that we can’t get enough of. Best books? Well, all of them, but you can start at ‘Jar City’ and afterwards check out the film version directed by Baltasar Kormákur—the one that directed ‘Everest’.

The Prinz of Germany: Ragnar Jónsson

When Ragnar Jónsson first emerged with his Agatha Christie-esque crime novels in 2009, he didn’t get raving reviews in the Icelandic media. His first book ‘False Note’ was said to be “slick but hollow,” but Ragnar, who is a corporate lawyer by day, writer by night, kept going, publishing one novel per year until he topped the German bestseller list and literature list at Amazon with ‘The Mist’. This incredibly skilled author has earned every bit of his success and could possibly stand up as the most successful Icelandic international crime writer. But where to start? ‘The Darkness’ would be a good choice. If that’s not enough, the Icelandic TV show ‘Trapped’—also with Baltasar Kormákur at the helm—is based on Ragnar’s books.

The Duchess Of Inner Demons: Lilja Sigurðardóttir

Lilja Sigurðardóttir is perhaps not the most well-known name in this category, but she has the most diverse writing style. Lilja jumps from being an award-winning playwright to a fantastic crime fiction writer as seamlessly and effortlessly as George R. R. Martin kills off beloved characters. Her characters are also more diverse than most of the other crime writers in Iceland. For example, her women are often queer—such as in the well-executed ‘Snare.’ Unlike other writers, Lilja is not obsessed with murder mysteries, but rather with character-driven drama that surrounds a crime. Not to say that there are no plot twists or schemes in her works, because she is excellent when it comes to that too. So start with ‘The Trap,’ and then just keep going.

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