SSoP Podcast Episode 10 — Sweden: So Happy, So Murdery

SSoP Podcast Episode 10 — Sweden: So Happy, So Murdery

Monday, 13 April, 2020

As of April 2020, Sweden is the seventh-happiest country 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.

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-persons case set in the forest during Midsommar.


Read the full transcript of Episode 10: Sweden.

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

buy | read review

The Ice Princess

buy | read review

The Stockholm Octavo

buy | read review

Popular Music from Vittula

buy | read review

Black River

buy | read review

other books we mentioned


other cool stuff we talked about

Aifur Restaurant: This is the Viking restaurant we mentioned at the top of the show. Highly recommended for a super-fun night. See the menu and make a reservation on the Aifur website.

The Vasa Museum: Though not directly related to books, the Vasa Museum is rich with stories and a strong sense of life in Sweden in the 17th-century. Everything you need to visit is on the Vasa Museum website.

World Happiness Report: Here’s the 2020 version of the World Happiness Report with Sweden at #7.

Swedish music: As promised, here some of the catchiest Swedish pop exports, so you can host a dance party at your place.

IKEA Billy Bookshelf: An IKEA Billy bookshelf is sold somewhere in the world every five seconds.

Midsommar trailer: It is our understanding that Midsommar celebrations are generally more festive and way less murdery than this.

Fabrique Bakery: This is where we enjoyed our first official fika experience in Stockholm. Highly recommended. Visit the Fabrique website for hours and location.

pastries in the window of fabrique bakery

Icehotel: Now on our wish list: a night at the Icehotel.

a suite made of ice at the icehotel

Donald Duck Christmas Special: The annual Christmas tradition in Sweden:

Cool online goodies associated with the The Stockholm Octavo: Author Karen Engelmann has put together a walking tour of the locations in her novel, a reading guide, and Mrs. Sparrow’s Guide to the Octavo. Get all the extras on her website.

The language of hand fans: Hand fans play a significant role in The Stockholm Octavo; here are a bunch of links if you want to fall down the rabbit hole.

Will Dean in Sweden: The author of the Tuva Moodyson series lives in a cabin the Swedish forest with his very St. Bernard Bernie. In this interview, he talks about the settings of his books. And this video gives you a look at the beautiful woods, his writing cabin, and Bernie:

The Codex Gigas, a.k.a., the Devil’s Bible: Blog post coming soon with the whole story, but here’s a sneak peek.

a drawing of a devil from the codex gigas



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Top image courtesy of David Becker.

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keep reading

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.
Our heroine Tuva could break up her workday as a reporter by celebrating fika, the Swedish coffee break built around pastries and good friends. Instead, she goes tromping in the woods after a serial killer. Oh, Tuva!'
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.
Young Matti is our guide to the brutal, beautiful landscape of Pajala, a town in Swedish Lapland near the Arctic Circle. Yes, it's freezing, but it's warmed by friendly banter, family connection, and homemade food.
Gotta love a place that embraces contrasts — and Sweden is all about it: the warm snuggly vibe of a Swedish Christmas or afternoon fika (coffee and cake) — and the magnificent, twisty murder mysteries of Scandi noir.

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