For most people, Easter is associated with the arrival of Spring, daffodils and excited children awaiting a visit from the Easter bunny. The days are longer and brighter, and wildflowers are starting to pop up everywhere.
For the majority outside Norway, it is a period that is definitely not associated with gruesome murders, abductions, and mysteries, yet for Norwegians, påskekrim, or Easter crime, is a core part of their Easter traditions. But why are Norwegians so obsessed with reading about murders during Easter, and how did the tradition come about?
The infamous newspaper ad
There is no need for a detective to unravel the origins of Easter crime’s popularity. The hype around påskekrim came about due to a successful yet deceptive marketing campaign by one of Norway’s largest publishers, Gyldendal, in 1923.
They placed a newspaper ad in national paper Aftenposten announcing their latest book release. The ad, designed to look like a regular news article, carried the attention-grabbing headline “The Bergen railway plundered” (Bergenstoget plyndret i natt). The fake headline was the title of a soon-to-be-released crime novel by authors Nordahl Grieg and Nils Lie rather than a real story.
According to author Gunnar Staalesen, the advertisement looked so real that many people in Oslo who had relatives travelling on the train the previous night called the national railway company in a panic to ask what had happened to their loved ones. Today, the advertisement might be borderline fake news, but success was achieved, and the entire initial stock of 7,000 books was sold out within days.
It inspired what would become the new high season for crime novels in Norway, and only a year later, competing publisher Aschehoug took the plunge and made the first major marketing campaign for påskekrim.
Below you can see a copy of the now infamous headline in a social media post by Norway’s national library.
It might seem strange to many that Norwegians, who traditionally love to spend the Easter holidays in their remote cabins in the woods, would enjoy reading about cold-hearted killers before going to bed. However, some speculate that the fascination comes from Norway being a country with relatively low crime rates and that crime novels excite people and allow their morbid fantasies to run wild.
While cuddling up in front of the fireplace after a long ski trip in blissful surroundings, the increased pulse and suspense from diving into a good crime novel feels intriguing and inviting. It allows you to be scared while knowing you are safe, and perhaps that is the greatest appeal.
Although crime literature gained prominence around the world in the 1840s with books such as Edgar Allen Poe’s Murders in the rue morgue, crime novels first achieved mass success in Norway in the 1970s.
Today, most of the literature read by Norwegian readers during Easter is written by Nordic authors themselves, as part of a sub-genre you may have heard of- Nordic noir.
Nordic noir, which gained prominence in the 1990s and became a popularised term with the streaming of Nordic crime shows like Denmark’s Borgen on Netflix, refers to a specific genre of crime fiction set in Scandinavia.
Compared to English country house murder mysteries with a classic whodunit approach (Agatha Christie’s ‘And then there were none’), Nordic noir is a lot darker and moodier.
It often centres around a complicated police detective (think detective Harry Hole in Jo Nesbø’s bestselling novels) trying to solve a murder in bleak winter landscapes set to the backdrop of a bland social surface with misogyny, rape, misandry and racism lying beneath (think the Millennium trilogy by Swedish author Stieg Larsson). Although it might not romanticise the region to outsiders, it is what entices Norwegians the most during Easter.
But who killed him, Poirot?
But it’s not just Nordic noir crime novels that grab the attention of Norwegians during Easter. There are also marathons on TV with various murder mysteries for those who prefer a more visual medium.
Easter crime on television gained prominence in 1976 when national broadcaster NRK showed the TV adaption of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels by British author Dorothy L. Sayers. In 1984 Dalgliesh made its first appearance, followed by Miss Marple in 1990, and in 2000 Norwegians got introduced to Poirot and his iconic moustache, followed by Foyle’s War three years later.
The Easter crime marathon properly starts around Maundy Thursday (skjærtorsdag) and runs until Easter Monday. Some series will be split up so that the viewer has to come back the next day to see what happens. Many Norwegian families watch these shows together in the evening during Easter, having fun trying to guess who the murderer is.
And similarly to the crime novels, the TV series being showcased each year for the annual Easter crime marathons are reviewed and rated by the newspapers.
So if this is your first Easter in Norway and you are looking to fit in with the crowd, pack your favourite wool sweater, some sunscreen, cross-country skis and your most grisly murder mystery book and set off to the mountains! You are guaranteed to get the full Norwegian Easter experience (and perhaps an increased heartbeat included in the price).