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In the past decade, streaming services such as Amazon Video and Netflix, along with cable channels and even mainstream networks, have produced a prolific number of high-caliber mystery series, featuring blue chip production values, star casts, and outstanding writers.

One sub-genre that has won admiration from viewers is what has been called “Nordic Noir,” stories set in far north venues (Scandinavia, Iceland, Shetland Islands, and other mostly European locales with cold climates and pervasive atmospheric darkness. I have watched many of these, finding them extremely satisfactory on all counts, though at times grimmer than those set in sunnier climates. Here are three of my favorites:

Shetland (2013 - ongoing), UK, streams on Amazon Video

This series, set in the Shetland Islands north of Scotland, and starring Douglas Henshall as Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez, may be the single best of its kind. Perez officiates over a wide expanse of beautiful but bleak lands, sparsely populated by entrenched locals, mainly crofters (farmers) and fishermen.

His office is a hole in the wall, and he is assisted by two rookie constables, Sandy Wilson (Steven Robertson) and Alison McIntosh — “Tosh” as she is known (Alison O’Donnell), as the crew works to solve a series of convoluted mysteries, the secrets of which are embedded in years of family feuds, long-forgotten bloodshed, and clannish silences.

Perez, magnificently played by Henshall, is himself native to the windswept moors. He understands these people whom he must investigate, and is able to gain their confidence through an undemonstrative exterior that cloaks a fiercely insightful mind and a quiet passion for justice.

His cohorts bring a down-to-earth quality to the partnerships, especially Tosh, a local girl still caught up in her fraught romantic life and her tendency to overindulge. On the job, though, she has a sure instinct for the truth. The stories themselves are enthralling, tightly written and endlessly intriguing. This is a series to prioritize in your queue.

'The Valhalla Murders' (2019), Iceland, streams on Netflix

Iceland, the setting for this engaging series, is a unique world, with vast unbroken fields of snow, large tracts of wilderness, and a single urban center, Reykjavik, where the mystery begins. The series stars Nina Dogg Filippusdottir as Kata, an Icelandic policewoman, who is thrown into the investigation of a multifaceted case involving a newly discovered 30-year-old skeleton, a string of mutilated victims (all of whom had worked at an old school for boys with a dark history), and a police chief who seems to have ulterior motives when he assigns oversight of the case to an officer other than Kata who was in line for the promotion.

Complicating the inquiry are the family issues in Kata’s life that threaten to distract her attention. When a crime profiler from Norway (Arnar, played by Bjorn Thors) is brought in to assist with the inquiry, Kata finds an able and sympatico partner who advances the probe, leading to a sequence of revelations, each triggering another revelation. The boundless blankness of the Icelandic landscape becomes a metaphor for impenetrability of the case at hand. Its final resolution is humdinger.

'Department Q.' (2013-18). Denmark. Streams on Amazon

'Department Q.' is a trilogy of three cases including (“Keeper of Lost Causes”; “The Absent One”; and “A Conspiracy of Faith”) and features a pair of Danish cops who have rankled their superiors, and now are demoted to a basement space at police headquarters, assigned to cold cases. Carl Morck (Nicolag Lie Kass) is a brilliant but troubled investigator whose past history has rendered him somewhat unstable emotionally and who is known for defying authority in pursuit of a case.

Assad (Fares Fares) is an ambitious but affable investigator who would be on the fast track but is sidelined as a Muslim in a mainstream culture that distrusts him. The two make a fascinating duo as they confront a number of bizarre mysteries that have befuddled the police establishment. In the first, the apparent suicide of a female politician is reinvestigated in light of information that she did not kill herself.

In the second, the murder of twins, one of whom has been raped, is the focus, as it appears that the two are victims of some violence-prone students at an affluent nearby school. The third installment follows a set of strange, unreported disappearances of children from fundamentalist religious communities and leads to the effort to capture a cunning serial killer. The mysteries are themselves compelling, and the pairing of the high strung Carl and the easy-going Assad in a productive partnership is rewarding.

Liahna Armstrong is a retired professor of English and Film Studies at Central Washington University.


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