Many crime fiction authors write series of books featuring the same main characters, which gives them the opportunity to develop and deepen the characters. The readers also get to know and understand the protagonists and their actions better and often they become like “old friends”. Here you´ll find a list of many well-known lead characters in alphabetical order.
Max Anger is the lead character in a series of political thrillers by Martin Österdahl. Max grew up at the small island of Arholma in the Stockholm archipelago and is a former fighter in an elite band of special-ops soldiers in Sweden. Now he is working as an analyst for Vektor, a think tank conducting research on Russia, but is haunted both by his battles scars and his own mysterious family past. He is in love with fellow operative Pashie Kovalenko and when Pashie goes missing in Sankt Petersburg, Max leaves his desk behind and flies to Russia – and into a storm of corruption, violence and deception. And his own personal story is intertwined with both the past and the present in unexpected ways.
The main character in the Dark Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson is a young policeman in the small town of Siglufjorður in Northern Iceland. It is his first posting, and he is far from his girlfriend in Reykjavik, but unable to leave his past behind him.
Ari Thór lost his parents when he was very young and had to fend for himself for much of his youth and adult life. He is good at his job but finds it hard to build any meaningful relationships with his colleagues. He is very much of an outsider in the village and also affected by the cold and isolation of this distant place.
Håkan Nesser is writing a series of novels featuring Gunnar Barbarotti, a Swedish police inspector of Italian descent, who lives in the small town of Kymlinge in the south of Sweden.
Barbarotti is a more upbeat character than Håkan Nesser´s former protagonist Van Veeteren and the books are firmly set in Sweden, although the town of Kymlinge is fictitious and named after an “abandoned tube station” in Stockholm.
A fictional Swedish police detective, who is the main character in a series of ten novels by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, collectively titled The Story of a Crime or the Martin Beck-series. The books cover ten years and are renowned for extensive character and setting development throughout the series.
Martin Beck goes from being an unhappily married man and father of two teenagers, to a divorced man in a happy unmarried relationship with a kind and emphatic landlady whom Beck meets while investigating the death of one of her tenants. Martin Beck is not a heroic person, he is just a nice guy trying to do his job.
The main character in a crime fiction series created by Liza Marklund. In a genre where the protagonists often were men, Marklund introduced a female tabloid journalist working for the fictional Swedish newspaper Kvällspressen (“The Evening News”) in Stockholm.
Annika is a career woman trying to gain the respect of her male colleagues, but at the same time she must combine her hectic workdays with being a wife and a mother. Working as a crime reporter, she seems to stumble into one dangerous situation after another.
In 2016 Arne Dahl began his new series featuring Detective Inspector Sam Berger and Security Service infiltrator Molly Blom. Two very strong and complex characters, who more or less are forced to operate outside the confinements of traditional police work. They are both very smart, never hesitate to take action and have a certain chemistry between them.
Kristina Ohlsson has written a series of novels featuring criminologist Fredrika Bergman, who works as an investigative analyst at the Stockholm police. She´s recruited to their special investigation’s unit and is anything but welcomed, but her different background and exceptional talent gives her a unique perspective that repeatedly helps the unit solve their cases.
Fredrika is an extremely focused and intuitive woman, whose critical thinking always adds exponentially to the course of the investigation. She and her colleague Alex Recht, an excellent police detective who loves his job, make up a powerful team.
Siri Bergman is the main character in a series of novels by Camilla Grebe and her sister Åsa Träff. Siri is a thirty-four-year-old psychologist who works in central Stockholm and lives alone in an isolated cottage out of the city. She is a widow with troublesome secrets in her past, but tries her best to move on with her life.
Criminal psychologist and profiler Sebastian Bergman is a many-sided and complex character in a series by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt. He is brilliant, but difficult and politically incorrect – and has a lot of personal problems. In the first novel he has retired from police work, since his life is a complete mess. He has for some years been trying to recover from the loss of both his wife and daughter in the 2004 Thailand tsunami.
He lives a lonely and self-destructive life until a former police colleague takes him on as a consultant to assist in a murder case. Bergman at first gets on badly with the young female detective Vanya, with whom he has to work, and is subsequently shocked to discover that she is his illegitimate daughter from a relationship he has almost forgotten. Seeing this as an opportunity to make up for the death of his daughter (for which he blames himself), he slowly begins to rebuild his career.
Public prosecutor Jana Berzelius is the main character in a series of novels by Emelie Schepp. Jana is on the one hand, a brilliant and successful prosecutor who does everything to enforce laws and regulations in society; but on the other hand, she is a ruthless MMA-trained woman who does not resort to breaking laws and rules to conceal her own dark and violent past.
Molly Blom > Sam Berger
Mikael Blomkvist is one of the two main characters in the Millennium series by Stieg Larsson, the other being Lisbeth Salander. Mikael Blomkvist an investigative journalist , divorced with a daughter. He is co-owner of the monthly magazine Millennium based in Stockholm and has a love affair with Erika Berger, the other co-owner and director of the magazine.
When the first novel begins Mikael Blomkvist has just lost a libel case involving damaging allegations about a well-known billionaire industrialist and has been sentenced to three months in prison – and of course to professional disgrace. Mikael Blomkvist is frequently referred to by his colleagues in the news media as “Kalle Blomkvist”, a reference to a boy detective who appears in several of Astrid Lindgren’s novels, Lisbeth Salander sarcastically refers to him by this nickname throughout the series.
An old sailor and sea captain, who has spent his whole life on the island of Öland and knows everything past and present. He is an important character in Johan Theorin´s four books in the Öland Quartet.
Erica Falck > Patrik Hedström
Police detective Malin Fors at the Linköping police force is a very strong woman in her thirties, and the main character in a series of crime novels by Mons Kallentoft. She is a brilliant and talented cop but also troubled by questions about her own past and afraid of letting her own repressed memories to dictate her life. She is divorced and lives with her teenage daughter in Linköping.
In her job she is moving through the borderland between life and death every day and navigates her colleagues through crime investigations so gruesome that they make the darkest of nightmares look like cosy fairy tales. And she is always on the verge – of being a workaholic – and of being addicted to Tequila or to having rough sex with her lover.
In 2017 Yrsa Sigurðardóttir published The Legacy, the first part in a new series featuring police detective Huldar and child psychologist Freyja. Huldar is an intuitive and cool investigator, but not very successful when it comes to human relationships. Freyja is an attractive young woman, with an upbringing that has made her both ambitious and reliable. Both Huldar and Freyea have their own personal dramas to fight and their relationship starts badly, but they are forced to work together and there is a romantic as well as a strained tension between them.
Frank Frølich > Gunnarstranda
Yrsa Sigurðardóttir is so far most famous for her series of books that center around the female lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir. Thóra is a single mother of two children, and struggles to balance her work commitments, looking after her children and finding love.
Thóra is a realistic and lovable character, a hard working mother with a special nose for finding trouble and for wanting to solve murder mysteries, instead of leaving them to the police. The books are set in within Reykjavik and the suburbs of Iceland.
Kjell Ola Dahl has achieved international acclaim with his Oslo Detectives series featuring Chief inspector Gunnarstranda and inspector Frank Frølich.
The Hidden Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson revolves around female detective inspector Hulda Hermannsdóttir of the Reykjavik police. In the first book Hulda is 64 years old and forced into early retirement, but is allowed to investigate an old case. In the second book we meet Hulda in her fifties and at the peak of her career, struggling to find her place in a male-dominated environment. Thus the series is told in reverse chronological order and the reader get glimpses of Hulda´s past now and then and gradually learns what tragic events that has shaped her to the person she is.
Jo Nesbø´s protagonist detective Harry Hole is a genuine anti-hero, an almost impossible character yet impossible not to like. He is in his late thirties, tall and athletic, with blonde hair, machine-cropped. He is unmarried, has no children, but a complicated on-off relationship with the young woman Rakel.
Harry has graduated from Police College and Law School, and works as a Special investigator for the Crime Squad in Oslo. He is the most competent detective of the Oslo Police but also battling his alcoholism and his own demons . At times suspended and often considered a nuisance by his employers, he is also revered by his colleagues, for he is a good cop whose high moral standards and pronounced sense of justice often lead him in the right direction.
Huldar > Freyja
The main character in a ten novel series by Helene Tursten. Detective Inspector Irene Huss is an investigator assigned to the Violent Crimes Unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, but she is also a wife and a mother of twin daughters.
She is in her 40s, a former judo champion and a dedicated feminist in a police department which is still adjusting to the presence of women as officers. She doesn´t shy away from the harsh realities of her job, but her job isn’t something she does because she’s tough or obsessed with it. She is just a cop, who wants to improve her world a little bit at a time.
A young widow by the age of forty, Ilka Nichols Jensen works as a school-portrait photographer in Copenhagen. She lives a modest, peaceful, anything-but-extraordinary life, when she unexpectedly inherits her father’s funeral home in Racine, Wisconsin. As he abandoned the family when Ilka was seven and was never heard of, Ilka cannot resist the wish to learn more about him. She makes a rash decision and moves to Wisconsin, where she finds not only the funeral home, but his new family – and a number of dark secrets and dangerous enemies.
Thomas Enger´s main character crime reporter Henning Juul has lost his son to a freak fire accident that burned down his house two years earlier. He has never forgiven himself for the death of his child even as he carries both emotional and physical scars. What keeps him going is a feeling that the fire wasn´t an accident and that it must have been set by someone.
He goes back to his work as a journalist as a way to try to resolve the mystery of the fire. Under the way he gets deeply involved in a series of mysterious crimes, more or less important to his own quest – finding justice for his young son.
A tough and down-to-earth heroine, but also an emotionally intelligent police officer, who brings a woman’s perspective to the male-dominated detective genre and also brings us many insights into the Finnish society.
When the series starts Maria is a 28 year old and both a student at law school and a student at the pólice academy, and she soon becomes the lead investigator.
In her free time, Maria Kallio, like the author Leena Lehtolainen enjoys all kinds of music.
Inspector Anders Knutas is the main character in Mari Jungstedt´s crime novels set on the island of Gotland. He is an effective policeman but also a relatively quiet and thoughtful man living with his wife and children.
Besides him there is the investigative journalist Johan Berg with a more than troubled love life and later in the series Karin Jacobsson, Knutas deputy, steps into the scene. Karin is eventually forced to face some very old and extremely painful memories and to make perhaps the most difficult decision she has ever made – one that may well change her life forever.
Detective lieutenant Sakari Koskinen in Tampere is the main character of 17 crime novels by Seppo Jokinen. Koskinen is a smart and driven cop, who supervises a team of detectives and works at smoothing over disputes, although he has a quick temper himself.
He has recently been divorced and is trying to piece together a new relationship with his teenage son. He combines his workaholism with fitness fanaticism and jogs at midnight or later and rides a bicycle everywhere, as fast as he can.
Mia Krüger > Holger Munch
Detective Inspector Charline ”Charlie” Lager is the heroine of a planned trilogy by Lina Bengtsdotter. Charlie works at Noa, the National Operative Unit in Stockholm and is known to be a brilliant and persistent investigator. She tries to forget her own troubled past by working extremely hard, but also by too much alcohol, pills and destructive sex.
When Charlie is ordered to go to Gullspång, the small community where she grew up, she is forced to face the memories she has so hard tried to escape. She is assigned to help the local police to solve a difficult case, but at the same time she makes frightening discoveries about her own past.
Jenny Rogneby has written a series of novels starring Leona Lindberg, a heroine like no one else. On the surface Leona is a successful criminal investigator of Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division and a happily married woman with two children. But everything isn´t what it looks like. Leona has done her best to adapt to her role as wife, mother and police, but suffers from a traumatic childhood and feels trapped and unhappy.
She has difficulties in relating to other people and her actions can often be questioned, but she does what she thinks needs to be done, regardless of the consequences. She is in many aspects a quite hard-boiled heroine, a lone wolf, who challenges the norms of how a woman shall behave and even the norms of society. She doesn´t see things as most people do.
The main character of the crime fiction novels by Lars Kepler is Detective Superintendent Joona Linna at the police’s National Operations Department. He is a tall and muscular man with blond hair and eyes grey, and wears a dark suit and a white shirt open at the collar. Usually he carries his heavy Colt Combat in a shoulder holster under his right arm.
Joona Linna is of Swedish and Finnish ancestry and has a poor background, which makes him something of an underdog in society and in the police force. His father, who also was a policeman, was killed on duty when Joona was twelve and his own tragic past compels him to seek justice for the victims of crimes. He is a highly skilled crime investigator, who has solved more complicated murder cases than any other police officer in Scandinavia, but is also known for his sometimes unconventional methods, for example working together with a hypnotist and a practicing medium.
Despite his unusual methods, he has gained the respect of his colleagues, and they are all aware of the great tragedy in Joona’s life, this being the loss of his wife Summa and his daughter Lumi. Ever since this tragedy Joona has lived a very solitary life with a feeling that those who get close to him have to disappear.
The heroine of Åsa Larssons novels taking place in Kiruna and Lapland. At the beginning of the series, Rebecka Martinsson is working as a tax lawyer at a fancy Stockholm firm, trying to forget everything from her childhood and youth in Kiruna. A spectacular murder forces her to return to Kiruna and the memories she has so hard tried to run away from.
She gets involved in a lot of traumatic events and is forced to a long period of recovery, where she finds that she wants to stay in Kiruna and she gradually moves into her grand parents´old cottage in Kurravaara. Rebecka is an interesting and loveable character, strong and weak at the same time and if you want to follow her close you should read the books in order.
Samuel Bjørk has so far written three crime fiction novels starring Holger Munch and Mia Krüger. Veteran police investigator Holger Munch is recovering from a divorce, a job transfer and from relocating his mother to a nursing home, when we meet him for the first time. His personal life is anything but simple and escape is sweet, so he is glad for his new assignment. In a couple of hours he manages to assemble an elite squad of investigators and put them to work in a very difficult case.
Mia Krüger is a brilliant investigator, who discovers what others miss and always offers plausible interpretations of each piece of evidence. Her strength is her brain, but she is also emotionally instable and in the first novel we find her at a solitary island with plans to kill herself. Mia, who has lost her twin sister to a drug overdose, has to struggle with her own dark demons and to resist the relief of liquor and pills. It´s a wonder she is still in the force with all she’s gone through, but she is a fighter on many fronts and considers her job a mission.
One of the best homicide detectives in Copenhagen, the head of the cold case department Q, and the main character in a series of novels by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Carl Mørck is a complex character with a lot of humour and self irony but also with a great professional police competence and a difficult private life. The author says that Carl Mørck contains elements from himself but also from a patient he learnt to know as a child at his father´s psychiatric clinic.
Department Q is a series, where each book is a crime novel, but they also form one long story together, which mainly is about Carl Mørck and his assistants Assad and Rose, and recently also Gordon. Every main character in the series has his/her own story, that gets revealed little by little.
28 years old Embla Nyström, who made an early appearance in the Detective Inspector Huss series, is back as the main character in The Hunting Game, the first novel in a new series by Helene Tursten. Embla is young and energetic, a talented hunter and prize-winning Nordic welterweight champion but also a smart and unhesitating Detective Inspector in the mobile police unit in Gothenburg, Sweden.
Alex Recht > Fredrika Bergman
The heroine of Sara Blaedel´s nine-books-series about the Missing Peoples Department at the Danish Police. Louise is a dedicated police inspector in her mid 30s based in Copenhagen. Like the author she has spent parts of her youth in Hvalsø.
Louise is a strong and independent police officer who relentlessly pursues justice for missing persons. She is tall and sporty and prefers to hang around men rather than women. But Louise is also a multi-dimensional character and its equally interesting to explore elements of her personal life and watch her conquer private challenges.
Criminal investigator Fabian Risk is the main character in a series of thriller novels by Stefan Ahnhem. In the first book Fabian returns to Helsingborg, the city where he grew up, and is immediately thrown into a murder case with personal connections. The second novel is in fact a prequel to the first one and explains why Fabian left Stockholm, and the third book picks up where the first book left off.
Fabian Risk is a family man with wife and two children, but both he and his wife work too much, their marriage is faltering and they haven´t got enough time for their children. Fabian struggles to deal with everything, but he is under a huge amount of pressure, both at home and at work.
In the first book in this series by Cilla and Rolf Börjlind Olivia Rönning is planning to follow in her father´s footsteps and become a police officer. She only has one last assignment to do, a challenge from her professor to pick a cold case and solve it – and she picks an unsolved murder at Nordkoster.
Tom Stilton is a former police and had been working with the Nordkoster case together with Olivia´s deceased father, but now he has left the police force and is trying to survive among the homeless in Stockholm. Olivia has to find Tom…
Stieg Larsson´s famous heroine Lisbeth Salander is a pale, skinny young woman who has black hair as short as a fuse, and a pierced nose and eyebrows. She has a wasp tattoo on her neck, a tattooed loop around her left arm, another loop around her left ankle, a Chinese symbol on her hip, and a tattoo of a dragon on her back.
Lisbeth Salander is a world-class computer hacker and under the pseudonym “Wasp” she becomes a prominent figure in the international hacker community. She uses her computer skills as a means to earn a living, doing investigative work for Milton Security, but also as a tool to investigate crime and find out about her own distressful background. Having survived a traumatic childhood, Salander is highly introverted and anti-social, and has difficulty connecting to people and making friends. She is particularly hostile to men who abuse women, and might be very antagonistic and violent, but she doesn’t appear to lack a conscience. While she may not always follow society’s rules, she does have her own set of moral principles that abide by a code of right and wrong.
Stieg Larsson once explained that Lisbeth Salander is actually fashioned on a grown-up Pippi Longstocking as he chose to sketch her. There are additional connections to Astrid Lindgren’s literary work in the Larsson novels; for example, the other main character, Mikael Blomkvist, is frequently referred to mockingly by his detractors as “Kalle Blomkvist”, another well-known Lindgren character. There are also similarities between Larsson’s Lisbeth Salander and Peter O´Donnell´s Modesty Blaise. Both are women from disastrous childhoods who somehow survive to become adults with notable skills, including fighting, and who accomplish good by operating somewhat outside the law.
Karin Fossum often sets her stories in ordinary small Norwegian communities where everything seems wholesome and well-ordered. But when a crime is committed and the gentle, wise detective Konrad Sejer comes to sort it out, we realize that surface is deceptive. In fact most of the mild-mannered and almost boringly normal residents have hidden depths and dark secrets.
Konrad Sejer is not typical of Scandinavian detective figures, because he is not unhealthy, he doesn´t drink too much and he has no dysfunctional family issues. He is an old-fashioned, polite and soft-spoken widower who never loses control. He spends time off with his daughter and her adopted son from Somalia, but never stops thinking about his case. He might seem square, but Sejer takes his job very seriously and his moral authority commands respect from all who encounter him.
Detective Chief Inspector Axel Steen is the main character in a new series by Jesper Stein. Axel is a hard-boiled and uncompromising man, who always gives 100 % to solving a case, but at the same time he is sensitive and unsure of himself, qualities that have led to an abuse of weed, alcohol and pills.
He is divorced and has a beloved daughter, but his sometimes chaotic private life often conflicts with his addiction to work. The books featuring Axel Steen are told in a raw, realistic and sometimes poetic tone known as “2200 Noir”, a reference to the Nørrebro postcode in Copenhagen.
Tom Stilton > Olivia Rönning
Arnaldur Indriðason´s protagonist Detective Erlendur is a brilliant cop, who makes thorough investigations and never gives up on a case. On the other hand he is also a gloomy and partly anti-social figure, who feels guilty over his own indifference towards his children after his marriage failed. He passes his solitary time reading his strange library of papers about people lost in the wilds of Iceland. The childhood loss of his little brother during a snowstorm, for which he blames himself, is still haunting him and every year he goes on a pilgrimage to his birthplace to continue the search for the boy’s body in the rugged hills.
As the series progresses, his children Eva Lind and Sindri, who are now adults with their own problems, gradually become part of his life. And, he reluctantly comes to terms with his past, at his own speed.
There are 11 novels starring Erlendur, of which nine have been translated into English. Although Strange Shores wrapped up the original Inspector Erlendur series, a prequel series featuring a younger Erlendur tells us of his earlier cases going back to the 1970s.
Van Veeteren is a detective in the early novels by Håkan Nesser and later the owner of an antique books shop. These books play out in a fictitious city called Maardam, said to be located in northern Europe in a country which is never named but resembles Sweden, the Netherlands, Poland and Germany. The names however are mostly Dutch. Inspector van Veeteren is a dedicated and cunning detective, who likes to solve criminal cases.
Gunnar Staalesen has written a long series featuring Private detective Varg Veum, who is a complex but engaging anti-hero. For many years he worked as a social worker specializing in child care, but his experiences led him to become hopeless about the ability of the state to help the many sad cases of abandoned and abused children he and his colleagues encountered. His constant conflicts with authorities made him start a new career as a private investigator.
Being an ex-social worker he is well acquainted with life´s darker side and behind his rough exterior hides a warm-hearted and sensitive person with a strongly developed social conscience. He becomes a sharp and intelligent PI, who stubbornly searches for justice and truth for those most vulnerable.
Anne Holt has written about this female character, who has a law degree and has been working as a profiler and psychologist at the Federal Investigation Bureau. She is also an energetic and independent woman, who has to cope with being the mother of a mentally damaged daughter.
In the first book in the series she meets detective Adam Stubo, a man with a tragic past and in pursuit of justice. The police needs Johanne´s profiling skills and she is convinced to start working together with Adam. It soon turns out that they have some real chemistry happening between them, but they are both more focused on the professional side of life than the emotional one. There are five novels featuring the skills of psychological profiler Johanne Vik and detective Adam Stubo.
Henning Mankell´s world famous protagonist Police Inspector Kurt Wallander works in Ystad, a small town in the southern part of Sweden. He is an excellent police officer, who often gets deeply involved with the cases he works on and besides his insistent looking for clues he has a very strong sense of intuition. He is devoted to his job but in private he is an ordinary, middle-aged man who goes through the same sad experiences so many of us go through in our lives.
In the first book in the series Wallander’s life is a disaster. His wife has left him, his daughter refuses to speak to him, and his ageing father is always angry with him. He works tirelessly, eats badly, and drinks too much. He has a flat in Mariagatan, where he tries to soothe his loneliness by daydreaming and listening to opera music.
Henning Mankell himself has told that Kurt Wallander was born on May the 20th 1989 and that he picked the name out of the telephone directory, but since then he has done a wonderful job in developing the character with all his human passions, fears and faults. The author understands his characters and builds them into people the reader gets to know very well and deeply sympathize with. Kurt Wallander is an antihero who struggles to make sense of grim crimes as well as of his personal life and for that he has become loved all over the world. It is highly recommended to read the books in order since the story of the characters does evolve from one book to the next.
Anna Jansson‘s crime novels take place in Gotland and the main character in all of them is criminal inspector Maria Wern, who becomes much more than a police when the reader in book after book is allowed to move deeper and deeper into her private life and feelings.
Hanne Wilhelmsen is a lesbian police officer stationed in Oslo and the main character in a series by Anne Holt. Hanne is really god at her job and suffers more from a tight budget inside the police force than existential problems. She has a relationship with another woman but does not advertise this to the people she works with. Later in the series she is crippled by a spine injury that ends her career. There are ten books in the Hanne Wilhelmsen series.
Chief Police Inspector William Wisting, Head of CID in Larvik, is the main character in a series of crime fiction novels by Jørn Lier Horst. Wisting is an experienced policeman but also a sincere and kind hearted person. He is a dedicated investigator and with the support of the Norwegian police he gives his best in combating the crime present in the city. He is very much aware of the dark sides of human nature and of the cruel challenges he meets every day, but believes that he can play an important part in developing a better society. Jørn Lier Horst introduces his lead character in the following article:
Introducing William Wisting
The William Wisting series consists of 10 books in total, which were released between 2004 and 2015, but they are not all translated into English. William Wisting also plays an important role in the first book in the new series, The Cold Case Quartet.