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Nordic Noir: The Story Of Scandinavian Crime Fiction

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Robert Murphy Robert Murphy | 09:00 UK time, Monday, 20 December 2010

The Stieg Larsson phenomenon was building to a crescendo when we decided the time was ripe to take stock of Scandinavian crime fiction in the documentary that became Nordic Noir.

Why had a region best known for Volvos, Abba and Ikea begun producing dark and violent thrillers filled with brooding detectives and avenging cyberpunks?

To find out, I headed to Norway and Sweden to meet some of the genre's best writers and deep thinkers.

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Time - and resources - were tight. BBC Bristol's Time Shift strand has been churning out compelling programmes on a shoestring for nearly 10 years and I had just three days to film eight interviews in three cities.

First stop Oslo, where Norway's hottest property Jo Nesbø explained how he achieved the unlikely feat of turning the humble snowman into a symbol of bowel-quaking terror.

It was hard not to feel a tinge of envy for a man who'd only turned to crime writing because he was bored with the day job - which involved being the Bono-like front-man of one of Norway's biggest bands.

After a whirlwind filming tour of the city I took a flight to Stockholm where my colleague Naz and I went in search of the twilight world of Stieg Larsson's Millennium novels.

The next morning we talked politics with the urbane Håkan Nesser, a writer who drily questioned the current of left-wing angst that underpins so much Scandinavian crime writing, before another flight took us to the port of Ystad - Wallander country.

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I hadn't expected it to be quite so twee, nor to see a tanned and refreshed Kurt lounging about in deck shoes, smoking a fag - but then actor Krister Henriksson only plays Wallander, despite the similarities he acknowledged in our interview.

The shoot ended, fittingly, with the woman who started it all - Maj Sjöwall.

In the 1960s, she and partner Per Wahlöö created a series of politically driven thrillers based around a long suffering detective called Martin Beck - books that would have a profound influence on Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.

"We wanted to change people's way of thinking," she smiled ruefully.

And that is the real story of Nordic Noir.

Robert Murphy is producer of Nordic Noir: The Story Of Scandinavian Crime Fiction.

Nordic Noir: The Story Of Scandinavian Crime Fiction is on BBC Four at 9pm on Monday, 20 December.

The Time Shift strand continues with Italian Noir: The Story Of Italian Crime Fiction, also on BBC Four at 9.30pm on Monday, 27 December.

Comments made by writers on the TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.


  • Comment number 1.

    This was a most enjoyable and informative documentary; congratulations to all concerned. I shall certainly be watching it again. The only problem for me is that it has fuelled my nascent interest in Nordic crime fiction - first triggered by Wallander in his various incarnations, particularly that of Krister Hentriksson - and this could prove costly in the long run. Hope the second series of the Krister-Wallander is going to be screened (again?) soon by the BBC.

  • Comment number 2.

    Well done on such an interesting and enlightening documentary. I too hope the BBC shows more nordic crime drama. The landscapes were beautiful.

  • Comment number 3.

    I watched Nordic Noir on Monday and recorded it on Tuesday but unlike Monday, the Tuesday programme was broadcast with the deaf-mute language person on the screen. I’d like to know if there is a way of guessing when reading the programmes if the deaf-mute person will appear on the screen. Can anyone help, please?

  • Comment number 4.

    This was a brilliant documentary. It was lovely to see krister Henriksson talking about his relationship with Joanna Sallstrom. I do hope BBC4 show the second Henriksson series again, but more importantly, they show the full series of the Lassgard films. I have seen only 3, and already I much prefer them to the Henriksson films. THAT is saying a lot. Is there any chance BBC4 WILL show more of the Lassgard series?

  • Comment number 5.

    Are you gonna repeat this Nordic episode (and the Italian episode too) of the 10th series of Time Shift?

    I've noticed the other ep's in the recent 10th series (and past 9th series) of Time Shift are on repeats, yet these two remain missing repeats outside of the busy 2010 xmas holiday season.

    Additionally, what and where are the final two episodes in the 10th series? They have been showing as "coming soon" with no info on what they are gonna be about for over a month...


  • Comment number 6.

    Hi jimthing

    Apologies for the late reply. Nordic Noir was repeated on Tuesday, 10 May, and will be available in iPlayer until Tuesday, 17 May. The final two episodes of Timeshift were broadcast at the start of April.


    Assistant Content Producer, BBC TV blog


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