Sweden is one of the happiest countries in the world. And it’s no wonder! Its residents enjoy one of the highest standards of living on the planet with low unemployment, one of the world’s longest life expectancies (80.6 for men; 84.1 for women), a commitment to caring for the environment, and a strong sense of community. Ninety-one percent of Swedes agreed that they know ‘someone they could rely on in a time of need.’

Plus, there’s ABBA.

Which is all very sweet and life-affirming. But also raises the question: Why are Swedish novels so murdery?!

The answer to the riddle lies in the question itself. Sweden — and, really, all of Scandinavia — is a happy, outdoorsy place. (More than 50% of the country is covered in forest, and there are 100,000 lakes.) There’s a commitment to tradition, including robust celebrations of both the dark of Christmas and the light of Midsommar. The population is well-educated, friendly, content, and always down to eat a cardamom bun while taking a minute to talk about life.

So when violence strikes a community — whether it’s in the capital city of Stockholm or a fishing village along the coast — it’s shocking because it happened in this near-utopian version of the world.

The contrast between the before (idyllic, bathed in golden sunshine or pure, white snow) and the after (dark, bleak, and icy) is impossible to resist — at least on the page.

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In this episode, we discuss everything that makes Sweden one of the happiest and most liberal places on Earth. Then we share the books that transported us there: a historical novel steeped in royal intrigue, a coming-of-age story rich with atmosphere (and food), and examples of excellent Scandi noir, including a classic of the genre set on a bleak island, a twisty whodunnit in an isolated village, and a missing-person case set in the forest during Midsommar. (show notes / transcript)

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Black River

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The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

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The Ice Princess

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Popular Music from Vittula

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The Stockholm Octavo

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featured posts

Sweden is one of the happiest places on Earth. It gave us ABBA, IKEA, and some of the darkest crime fiction on the bookshelves. In this ep, we discuss all of that and share five great books that transported us there.
A sinful but repentant monk, an assist from the devil, an 800-year-old book, potential madness, and a rivalry between Bohemia and Sweden. This story of the Codex Gigas, also known as The Devil's Bible, has everything.
How about a delicious meal to go with your immersive reads?! This is just the recipe to give you a taste of Sweden. It's comforting with luscious contrasts between hot, cool, tart, sweet, and savory in every bite.
One of our favorite ways to mingle with locals in new-to-us cities is among the shelves of a neighborhood bookshop — it's even better when they include English-language books. These two in Stockholm are must-visits.
Fika is the leisurely consumption of carbs and caffeine that's a standard part of every day in Sweden. More than a coffee break, it's a pause to connect with people, recharge, and appreciate the good things in life.
The summer solstice — a long day of sunlight and the setting for a chilling mystery. As revelers celebrate Midsommar in Sweden, danger creeps from the forest, suspects abound, and an intrepid reporter is on the case.
'Tis the season of snow and ice, so let's embrace the frosty weather with this thoroughly chilling mystery set in a tiny fishing village on Sweden's east coast. Bad actors getting their comeuppance is so comforting.

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