Borgen, the celebrated Danish TV series about power, politics, and media, puts Hollywood in the shade.
As a literary genre, Nordic noir began in the mid-1960s with ten murder mysteries jointly authored by Swedish crime writers Per Wahlöö and Maj Sjöwall. The novels were an instant success because, in addition to solving particular crimes, their protagonist, a moody police detective named Martin Beck, uncovered a hidden world of dysfunction and malfeasance behind the benign façade of the Scandinavian welfare state. This combination of sleuthing and political commentary captured the spirit of the times.
In Scandinavia today, most serious criticism of the welfare state comes from free-market, center-Right parties. This was not the case 50 years ago when Nordic noir was born. Back then, the critiques came from the far Left, with Marxists and fellow travelers like Wahlöö and Sjöwall condemning social democracy as a bourgeois accommodation to the evils of capitalism. A similar take can be found in the novels of subsequent writers, such as Henning Mankell (creator of the gloomy detective Kurt Wallander), Stieg Larsson (author of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels), and Leif G.W. Persson (celebrity criminologist turned prolific author).
But over the decades, as Nordic noir sold millions of books and profited from hundreds of film and TV adaptations, this critique lost its Marxist edge. What had begun in the 1960s as an indictment of greed, hypocrisy,