If you thought that winter in Britain had gone on long enough this year, then spare a thought for the Norwegians. Winters in Norway are famously long, dark and bitter, and – for those who experience them year upon year – can be incredibly boring. During one such winter, in February 1923, two Norwegians called Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie decided to alleviate their boredom by writing a book. The theme? A train robbery; or more specifically, a looting of the train to Bergen. The title of the book? The Bergen train was robbed in the night (or, in its original Norwegian: Bergenstoget plyndret i natt).
Having written the book, the next step was to convince people to buy it, and here the authors came up with a very cunning plan indeed. They decided to advertise their book by printing its title on the front page of the national newspaper Aftenposten, thus convincing thousands that this was headline news rather than a PR stunt, and cementing its place as the most popular Easter book in Norwegian history.
That year – like this year – Easter fell on the 1st of April, which meant that in the book, the police initially believe the robbery to be an April Fool and take their time responding. This allows the criminals to make their exit across the mountains (on skis, naturally), gloriously undetected.
This book kicked off what was to become a Norwegian tradition – Påskekrim, or ‘Easter Crime’. Grieg and Lie had noticed that Easter was a time when Norwegians took the opportunity to head off to their mountain cabins, or ‘hytte’, settle down next to a log fire, and put work to the back of their minds. And what better to aide their escapism than a nice crime novel?
These days, a påskekrim novel is a vital part of any Easter trip to the mountains, along with a KvikkLunsj (a chocolate bar a bit like a Kit-Kat), and an orange. So synonymous have these become, that in 2009 one Norwegian publisher printed a crime anthology with a cover so similar to the chocolate bar’s wrapper that they were taken to court. Even the milk company Tine has got in on the act, printing crime-related cartoon strips on the side of their milk cartons, which are written and illustrated by some of Norway’s finest.
Being just over the sea from the UK, it was only a matter of time before Norwegian – and Scandinavian crime fiction in general – began gaining popularity in the British market, and of course it’s now the height of fashion to be reading Scandi-crime. Writers such as the late Stieg Larsson (he of ‘The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo’ fame), and Jo Nesbo, the creator of Detective Harry Hole, have almost become household names. But there are hundreds of other, lesser-known authors, who are also writing fantastic crime thrillers, more and more of which are being translated into English.
One of these is Anne Holt. A Norwegian who worked with the Oslo Police Department before serving briefly as the Minister for Justice in the Norwegian government, she turned her hand to crime writing in 1993, and has become one of Norway’s more successful crime writers. She specialises in Oslo-centric thrillers and, like Nesbo, the central character in many of her books is a police officer. In Holt’s case, a woman named Hanne Wilhelmsen. My personal favourite of hers is ‘The Final Murder’ (Det som aldri skjer), which a series of famous people, including a TV celebrity and a politician are murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion, but with no obvious pattern. Well, that’s what it looks like on the surface at least…
Another Norwegian, Jørn Lier Horst, has been making waves with his latest novel ‘Hunting Dogs’, which was the most recent winner of the Riverton Prize (Norway’s crime-writing prize). A police officer himself, Lier Horst tends to delve into the psychology of working with crime, making it easy to get into the mind and under the skin of his police inspector, William Wisting.
And there are many more. Swede Alexander Söderberg’s first novel, The Andalucian Friend, has been much hyped and will be devoured by those who like their books like blockbuster movies – packed full of car-chases and underground drug dens, while another Swede (and another former police officer), Anders de la Motte, has gained a loyal following after the release of his debut novel [geim], in 2010.
Of course, it’s not all about books these days either. A Norwegian Easter might be about getting away from it all, but many of even the remotest of hytte have televisions. Denmark’s The Killing has become something of a cult programme in the UK, with Sarah Lund’s knitwear becoming a must-have fashion item. Others in a similar ‘Nordic Noir’ vein include the Lilyhammer (a slightly bizarre comedy crime programme, in which a New York gangster decides to start a new life in a rural Norwegian town), Wallander, and even ITV’s latest detective series Broadchurch has a hint of Scandinavia about it.
So what else for it? Pick up your Scandi thriller, add an orange, a Kit Kat (or, if you’re being really authentic, a Kvikklunsj), build yourself a log fire, and you’re all set for Easter. God påske!