Wednesday, April 1, 2015

The Norwegian Easter Mystery

by Jorn Lier Horst, Norway

In Norway, Easter is peak season for reading crime fiction. This is a strange phenomenon that has also spread to TV, radio and newspapers. Crime stories are everywhere at Easter time, with miniature crime puzzles even printed on milk cartons.

Crime Puzzle on 24 million milk cartons in Norway at Easter
The crime tradition may of course be linked to the original roots of the Easter celebration, stemming as it does from a gory and dramatic crime story, namely the trial of the religious fanatic Jesus of Nazareth. However, the connection between the crime genre and the Christian festival is nonetheless a distinctively Norwegian institution. People do also celebrate Easter in other corners of the globe without resorting to reading crime fiction.

A number of explanations are suggested for the roots of this peculiarity. For example, it’s true that in Norway we have the world’s longest Easter holidays, and crime novels are especially popular holiday reading. In the past it was also true that crime literature was mainly published in paperback editions, easy to transport in a rucksack into the mountains at Easter. In fact, Norwegian mountain ranges are littered with old, tattered crime books that were never carried down again! 

Another, more speculative, theory is that our springtime thirst for blood and attraction to crime is a relic from pagan times when blood sacrifices were offered prior to summer to ensure abundant harvests.

Mistaken newspaper advert from 1923

First Norwegian Easter Crime fiction
It is more probable that market forces have played a greater role in the development of this Easter crime fiction custom than we like to admit. It all began more than ninety years ago, when the author Jonathan Jerv wrote a crime novel in 1923 about a robbery on the Bergen train, with both action and publication taking place at Easter. On the weekend before Easter Sunday, the publishers splashed a large advert on the front pages of all the major national newspapers with the book title, Bergen Train Robbed Last Night, in bold letters. It would have taken a very observant reader to notice that this was in fact a publisher’s advert rather than a newspaper headline. People believed that the train had been hijacked. The campaign was so successful that the book was completely sold out within a short time, and a new season for the publication of crime fiction was established.

So the question is: what are you going to read this Easter?

Jorn Lier Horst


  1. I'd no idea that reading crime fiction was such a popular Easter pastime in Norway, Jørn.

    As for myself, I've just been reading a proof of SNOWBLIND by Icelandic author Ragnar Jonasson, translated by Quentin Bates. And I've just started THE BLIND ASSASSIN by Margaret Atwood. I know I'm way behind the times, but I spotted a copy and realised I'd never actually read it when it came out. How about you?

  2. I am reading James Benn's Billy Boyle 2--First Wave, which I somehow missed, even though I have read later in the series. And I am rereading the great Kurt Vonnegut's Galapagos. And a Biography of Denys Finch Hatton for my Africa series research. Easter activities for the family include a lot of cooking and eating and, this year, the first of what I hope will be an annual singalong of Jesus Christ Superstar.

  3. I remember the days when you could buy a line or two of advertising on the front page of The New York Times print issue. To be honest, you still might be able to do that, but I've read only the online version for years.

    I am reading a few other things too. Like just finishing up a few days back Haruki Murakami's "1Q84," over the next couple days Ragnar Jonasson's "SNOWBLIND" (though to quash any rumors, not sharing Zoë's copy), and am now into "Moby Dick" by that Melville guy.

  4. What a cool tradition! I'd never heard of this before, but I really like it. I think it's fantastic that Norwegians have such a love of reading, too.

    I'm currently trying to finish a manuscript for my agent before Easter, so my reading time is limited this week, but I do have a couple of mysteries (including our own Jeff Siger's latest) burning holes on my shelf, so I'm trying to get finished as fast as I can!

  5. Me?

    I am reading "Alex" by Pierre Lemaitre. French crime fiction.

  6. I have no time to read.... editing like fury. But top of my 'To read' list is a true crime book 'The World's End Murders.' I shall keep that and my Easter egg as post edit award.

  7. I like this a lot. Thank you for sharing. I'm always looking for upcycles like this. In the end, you don't know it was a shipping pallet to begin with!
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