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Why we love Scandi-noir

Awesome women and real heroes are only some of the reasons that Scandinavian crime drama is the new black.

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Their heroes are the real deal. Being a good cop is important to The Killing's Sarah Lund, The Bridge's Saga Noren and the eponymous Wallander. Even more important, their bosses realise they're good at their jobs and let them get on with it. For almost a century our fictional detectives have been surly, grizzled types; boozing, trigger-happy sleuths whose unorthodox methods often involve fists. This fictional device is now as tired as the suspended sleuth after a weekend stakeout and it's refreshing to see a return to competent detectives who take pride in the work - but without the moralising of US cop shows

The women are awesome. They're smart and they're single. They're in their 40s and they don't care what anyone thinks of them. They've got a job to do and they're going to do it. They're The Killing's Sarah ''one jumper'' Lund (Sofie Grabol) and The Bridge's Saga ''Motley Crue'' Noren (Sofia Helin). These are the kind of women girls want to be when they grow up. More, please.

Murder has never looked so good. The velvety black night skies with their shimmering lights, the Copenhagen drizzle that should be drab but somehow looks monochrome chic, the endless yellow fields of Wallander's Ystad. The interiors are just as beguiling, whether it's the open-plan homes of the detectives - sparsely furnished, bordering on empty and OCD tidy - or the stately offices of the politicians.

They're populated with real people. Lund became famous for her bulky jumper. Noren's most glamorous item of clothing is her leather trousers. Neither woman bothers with make-up or a hair dryer. Kurt Wallander always looks as though he has just got out of bed. The watery northern sunlight isn't doing anyone's complexion any favours, either. But when people are dropping like flies, a visit to the Pond's Institute is probably the last thing on your mind.

They are meditations on puzzle solving. Other crime shows are full of the bustle of police headquarters or the chatter of village gossip. Scandi detectives tend to solve their crimes slowly, often on their own, by turning the clues over in their minds. Some of The Killing's most enthralling scenes were long shots of Lund, slowly chewing gum and looking off into the distance while she mulled over the case.

And injustice for all. Scandinavia is held up as a utopia of equality, yet these crimes series are preoccupied with themes of social injustice and the disintegration of a system designed to help the less fortunate. This goes back as far as Henning Mankell's first Kurt Wallander novel, Faceless Killers (1991), and the first episode in the second season starring Kenneth Branagh. ''In the '70s, Sweden was innocent, but we've lost that,'' Sofia Helin said recently. ''Society has become less idealistic and everything is about how much money you have in your wallet.''


They're familiar, yet exotic. The multitude of long-haired blondes can be confusing at first, but there are enough northern Europeans in Australia for the cast to feel identifiable, despite the language barrier. The real differences lie in the landscapes and the way they are filmed. Spend a weekend watching a season of any one of these shows and you feel you have been transported to another land.

But not exotic enough to make you want to go. Slate-grey drizzle is romantic onscreen; not so much in reality. The Oresund Bridge aside, none of the shows feature famous landmarks. Perhaps a murder at the Little Mermaid statue will feature in season three of The Killing, or a mugging at the 14th-century St Peter's church in Malmo in season two of The Bridge. Until then, diehard tragics who want a taste of real Scandi noir will have to be satisfied with the tour of Wallander's Ystad (yes, it exists).

The Bridge
Wednesdays, SBS Two, 8.30pm. It is out on DVD this week.