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A man with a gun walking in the snow. From the movie poster for Jo Nesbø’s The Snowman.
From the Jo Nesbø film “The Snowman”.
Photo: United International Pictures

Every year the Norwegian love for “Easter crime” makes headlines and tops the lists of strange ways to celebrate the holiday around the world.

In Norway, reading crime stories during Easter is as normal as eating chocolate and going skiing. But to the outside world, the “Easter crime” phenomenon is – quite literally – a mystery.

A thirst for bloody murders

The genre of dark crime stories with bleak Scandinavian settings – often referred to as Nordic noir – has a massive following around the world. But the obsession with crime at Easter is a solely Norwegian thing.

The British newspaper The Independent calls it “bizarre” while The Mirror writes: “Curiously it’s become traditional in Norway to read or watch stories about crime (called Påskekrims) over the Easter period. And you thought biting the head off your chocolate rabbit was weird?”

“Why do Norwegians thirst for bloody murders during the Easter specifically?” – Die Welt

Photo: Terje Rakke / Nordic life / Visitnorway.com

“So why do Norwegians thirst for bloody murders during the Easter specifically?” the German newspaper Die Welt wonders.

To solve that mystery, we need to go almost a century back in time.

A bold idea

It’s February 1923. The two young and broke Norwegian authors Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie suddenly come up with a steaming idea: To cash in big, they decide to write a bestselling crime novel.

The publisher Gyldendal is on board. The Sunday before Easter they launch a major advertising campaign, in which the book’s title “Bergen train looted in the night” gets the top spot on the front page of the Norwegian newspaper Aftenposten. The stunt turns heads. The ad is so believable that most people don’t realise that it is fiction – they believe the train has actually been robbed.

The drama gets massive attention, and the novel becomes a huge success.

“Many consider this novel to be the first Easter crime and the very origin of the tradition”, Bjarne Buset, information manager at the Norwegian publishing house Gyldendal, says.

In the novel, we get acquainted with two young students who ski from cabin to cabin during Easter. And the fact that Easter is closely associated with the Norwegian cabin (“hytte”) is a part of the reason why the tradition has taken roots, Buset states.

Photo: Terje Rakke / Nordic life / Visitnorway.com

“More than any other holiday, Easter is a time when people head for a cabin in the snowy mountains or near the sea. Here, reading Easter crime goes hand in hand with great skiing conditions and eating Kvikk Lunsj chocolate or oranges in the winter sun”, Buset says, and elaborates:

“Few other countries have as many days off during Easter as Norway. The length of our holiday means that we have time to read”, he says.

What is Nordic noir?

“Nordic noir” has become a term that refers to dark contemporary crime fiction from the Nordic countries. The international appeal of authors like Jo Nesbø has resulted in a major popular cultural export that is historically unprecedented with regards to popular fiction from the Nordic countries.

Nordic noir is often defined by
brutal crimes
a strong plot
a bleak setting
a tortured protagonist

Famous Norwegian crime writers

Jo Nesbø
Anne Holt
Jørn Lier Horst
Karin Fossum
Hans Olav Lahlum​
Unni Lindell​
John Kåre Raake
Gard Sveen
Ruth Lillegraven
Knut Nærum
Tom Egeland
Tor Edvin Dahl
Gunnar Staalesen
Arne Dahl

Read more

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