Five Success Lessons from Nordic Noir

Whenever I have homesickness, I go to the nearest library and borrow some Nordic crime fiction. I read Stieg Larsson, Lars Kepler, Jussi Adler-Olsen, James Thompson, Arnaldur Indriðason, Jo Nesbo and whoever has Scandinavian sounding name. Then I read them in the sun and miss the cold and dark winter.

Because the phenomenon has been so close to me (geographically), I have been thinking lots about these writers and identified five key success factors:

1. Success feeds even more success
Typical Finnish way is to think that the success is a zero-sum game. If someone wins, other people will lose. That is not the case.  Success feeds success. After the phenomenal sales of “The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo”, the appetite for even more Scandinavian crime novels has been infinite. The halo effect has gone also beyond Scandinavia and it is now actually easy to find detective novels also from Finland and Iceland around the world. People think in clusters and now it is definitely advantage if you happen to come from cold northern country and write detective novels (with preferably semi-alcoholic main character). The appeal has also expanded to TV-series as well, with US-versions from The Killing and The Bridge. Movie adaption of “The Girl With Dragon Tattoo” was a success and I cannot wait the “Snowman”-movie whether it will be done or not by Martin Scorsese.

2. Success does not come out of nothing
All the Nordic countries have strong roots in detective novels and especially Finland has one of the finest curated detective novel series (Sapo). Although “Girl With Dragon Tattoo” opened the flood gates, it would have not been possible without the pioneer work of Henning Mankell & Håkan Nesser, to name a few. And funnily enough, also they are currently witnessing surge in their popularity.

3. Turn your weaknesses to strengths
Especially during this time of year, all the Nordic countries might be depressing places. It is dark and although they really do not have that much of problems, those few problems are visible. Drunks are on the streets and it is quite unlikely that you have not witnessed some violent outburst. Whereas other countries sweep the problems under the carpet, part of the social-democratic ethos is that society should take care of everyone. When it fails, the visible problems serve as constant reminders for everyone about the failures of individuals and the whole collective who has left them down.
Although there have not really been serial killers in Nordic countries (only handful based on Wikipedia), the Nordic Noir writers excel in those dark narratives of twisted killers and mixing it up with cultural peculiarities. Big part of the appeal of the Nordic Noir novels is the faulty detective heroes. They struggle with their own personal demons, whether it is booze, drugs, women or short temper. Most of the times, it is combination of all these.

4. You do not need to compromise
Twenty years ago it would have been totally unheard of that there is bestseller with a main character called Joona Linna who is operating in Stockholm. You would have been forced to try to do something more universal and write agent stories spanning different continents. When you write about something you know, you write with real feeling and express your true emotions. Audience identifies with that reality everywhere. That is more universal than your protagonist jetsetting around the globe, driving latest cars and having the latest gadgets. No offense, 007.

5. Remember your local roots, but think global
Digital revolution has helped these writers to expand their reach and connect with their audience. First thing I did when I found “The Healer” by Antti Tuomainen in Singaporean library, I immediately went to like his Facebook-page to show the support. Digital tools enable these authors to connect and reach people, which would have been almost difficult before.

For those new to the genre, I recommend especially Harry Hole –series from Jo Nesbo. Books are packed with really thrilling plots, starring the half-man half-amazing, who fixes his gun-blasted jaw with duct-tape and carries on. That is how you roll in Oslo.

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