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The Thrillers of Scandinavia

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A few of the books, TV shows, and movies that make us squirm—while inspiring us to discover where they take place

Above: A scene from the movie version of 'The Keeper of Lost Causes'

Within the past decade, Scandinavian directors and writers have become serious rivals of Japanese thrill-masters. Sweden, Denmark, and Finland (three of the countries that make up Scandinavia) are united over their deft eye for prickling suspense and original mystery.

And despite the fact that we sometimes can't get to sleep after watching the blood and intrigue, it still makes us want to flock to the settings that we've read about. Works like the Millenium trilogy--that begins with The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo--have even inspired tours to help you feel tantalizingly close to the action. Here's a quick primer on some of the most belovedScandinavian thrillers that will help get you in the mood before your next trip.

Melancholia

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Danish director-writer Lars von Trier's sci-fi-drama juxtaposes a study of two sisters against the threat of possible apocalypse. If you think that because so many of his films are set in America, that means you aren't getting a sense of Denmark landscape, well, you're wrong. Von Trier refuses to set foot in the United States, and most of his films have been shot in his homeland. Take, for instance, the beautifully colored Melancholia. Not only does it put Kirsten Dunst's acting chops to good use, the film also features performances by Swedish beau Alexander Skarsgard and French Charlotte Gainsbourg, who has now become something of Lars von Trier's muse after starring in Anti-Christ and both Nymphomaniacs.

The Killing

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This Danish crime-drama follows a Copenhagen police department's investigation of grisly murders, so you'll get lots of beautiful shots of Denmark's capital city. Each season unpacks a different case, while each episode unpacks one day of the investigation. (So 24 wasn't the only show with a similar approach.) The Killing has garnered a cult following in Europe and even received an International Emmy. Surprise Surprise, an American version premiered in 2011 on AMC.

The Maria Kallio Series

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With so many male-dominated crime series, it's great that Scandinavian authors have embraced heroines at the center of their ingenious plots. Finland's Leena Lehtolainen has now penned 12 books in her Maria Kallio crime series that offers hard-boiled realism from a female perspective. It all begins with My First Murder and has the sparky protagonists on the trail of her first big case, so once you're hooked, you'll have plenty to keep you engaged through her Helsinki adventures and into the Finnish countryside.

The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo

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Heard of it? Even though Stieg Larsson was tragically never able to see the success of his trilogy, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo has become one of the best selling mysteries world-wide. Protagonist Lisbeth Salander won over audiences with piercing wit and bad-ass hacking skills. She was also played by Noomi Rapace in the Swedish film adaption and Rooney Mara in David Fincher's American version. However, the U.S. takes the win here; Fincher's direction adds a needed atmospheric thrill. (Warning: Do not see this with your grandparents on your next visit to Florida. My biggest regret...)

Let The Right One In

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Ignore the American adaption and go straight to the original for this one. The re-do still has its moments, but the Swedish film somehow combines a sweet coming of age story with genuine scares unlike any other vampire movie before it. Tomas Alfredson's direction is crisp and creepy, while the performances by the two young leads will make you feel immensely untalented but seriously charmed.

The Keeper of Lost Causes

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"Perfect for fans of Stieg Larsson's The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo," according to those experts at Amazon. Jussi Adler-Olsen's novel navigates the world of Carl Morck, one of Copenhagen's best homicide detectives at Department Q. After two of his fellow cops are shot down, Morck is unexpectedly promoted and lands himself a perplexing case: a missing politician who has been presumed dead for five years might (dun dun dun) still be alive. You can probably count on an American film adaption starring Liam Neeson to come out soon.

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