Anthony McIntyre - Snow invariably adds that crisp atmospheric touch to the quintessential Scandi Noir novel. 


The genre succeeds quite well sans the white stuff, but when added, it beckons the reader to many wintry graves. Murder in the snow hits the high note that murder in the sun strains to reach.

None have done it better than Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. Written almost thirty years ago, long before Stieg Larsson set the literary world alight with works like The Girl Who Played With Fire, Høeg was burrowing into the the untapped mine of rich minerals.

I discovered it by pure chance. A journalist was leaving the house one day and we were chatting about my love of Scandi Noir. As he opened the door to his car he recommended Ms Smilla. I noted it, and got around to reading it a few years later. Stunning. It is as good as anything else in the genre, perhaps even better. But that is a hard call as there is so much good stuff, leaving the aficionado spoiled for choice.

Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, while a child growing up in Greenland, came to understand snow. In later life she worked as a scientist and her specialty was snow. There was little about it that she did not understand: its composition, its power of resistance and destruction. No shift was undetectable to her. She knew snow like a native American did the prairie.

Each step through the novel is accompanied by the imagined sound and feeling of snow crunched beneath the feet. It is wonderfully and winterly constructed.

Smilla is self-contained and not socially outgoing but she reaches out to a child, Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in her Copenhagen apartment lot. He hails from a Greenland family, so there is common cause. His mother has alcohol addiction problems, so the boy does not get the care and love he needs. Smilla helps to make up the deficit. The friendship she develops with the boy is tender and at one point invites questions as to the fluidity of boundaries. 

Unexpectedly, Isaiah plunges to his death from a roof. For the Copenhagen police it is an open and shut case: a tragic accident – the boy was simply playing, lost his footing and stumbled over the edge. Smilla suspects something else. She sees beyond the flat bland whiteness of the snow, a substance she is so adroit at comprehending, and feels the boy’s shoe tracks suggest he was chased or was running desperately to avoid something. Besides, he had a fear of heights and would not willingly have ventured to the edge of a high building. Something drove him there. 

Shooed away by the police, Smilla, with the help of a neighbour with whom she has a fling, sets out on her own investigation. She finds out that the boy's father had died on a furtive project in Greenland. The compass points north. As the drama unfolds it relocates and ultimately the final battle to establish how Isaiah died is fought out on a ship named The Kronos amid the icebergs and snow floes of the North Atlantic.

A great thriller, this novel by Peter Høeg sits on a bedrock of incessant cultural friction between the affluence of Denmark and the poverty of Greenland. It is anthropological and sociological commentary that in ways gently touches on the concept of a clash of civilisations, with the Danes feeling that the Greenlanders are less than civilised while failing to accept their own responsibility for the historically induced disparity that exists. 

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow has been compared to Gorky Park which I read almost 40 years ago and was less than impressed by despite all the hype and its long stay at the top of the best sellers list. Smilla is a much better read.

Peter Høeg, 1992, Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. Harper Collins. ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0002713337

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow

Anthony McIntyre - Snow invariably adds that crisp atmospheric touch to the quintessential Scandi Noir novel. 


The genre succeeds quite well sans the white stuff, but when added, it beckons the reader to many wintry graves. Murder in the snow hits the high note that murder in the sun strains to reach.

None have done it better than Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. Written almost thirty years ago, long before Stieg Larsson set the literary world alight with works like The Girl Who Played With Fire, Høeg was burrowing into the the untapped mine of rich minerals.

I discovered it by pure chance. A journalist was leaving the house one day and we were chatting about my love of Scandi Noir. As he opened the door to his car he recommended Ms Smilla. I noted it, and got around to reading it a few years later. Stunning. It is as good as anything else in the genre, perhaps even better. But that is a hard call as there is so much good stuff, leaving the aficionado spoiled for choice.

Smilla Qaaviqaaq Jaspersen, while a child growing up in Greenland, came to understand snow. In later life she worked as a scientist and her specialty was snow. There was little about it that she did not understand: its composition, its power of resistance and destruction. No shift was undetectable to her. She knew snow like a native American did the prairie.

Each step through the novel is accompanied by the imagined sound and feeling of snow crunched beneath the feet. It is wonderfully and winterly constructed.

Smilla is self-contained and not socially outgoing but she reaches out to a child, Isaiah Christiansen, who lives in her Copenhagen apartment lot. He hails from a Greenland family, so there is common cause. His mother has alcohol addiction problems, so the boy does not get the care and love he needs. Smilla helps to make up the deficit. The friendship she develops with the boy is tender and at one point invites questions as to the fluidity of boundaries. 

Unexpectedly, Isaiah plunges to his death from a roof. For the Copenhagen police it is an open and shut case: a tragic accident – the boy was simply playing, lost his footing and stumbled over the edge. Smilla suspects something else. She sees beyond the flat bland whiteness of the snow, a substance she is so adroit at comprehending, and feels the boy’s shoe tracks suggest he was chased or was running desperately to avoid something. Besides, he had a fear of heights and would not willingly have ventured to the edge of a high building. Something drove him there. 

Shooed away by the police, Smilla, with the help of a neighbour with whom she has a fling, sets out on her own investigation. She finds out that the boy's father had died on a furtive project in Greenland. The compass points north. As the drama unfolds it relocates and ultimately the final battle to establish how Isaiah died is fought out on a ship named The Kronos amid the icebergs and snow floes of the North Atlantic.

A great thriller, this novel by Peter Høeg sits on a bedrock of incessant cultural friction between the affluence of Denmark and the poverty of Greenland. It is anthropological and sociological commentary that in ways gently touches on the concept of a clash of civilisations, with the Danes feeling that the Greenlanders are less than civilised while failing to accept their own responsibility for the historically induced disparity that exists. 

Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow has been compared to Gorky Park which I read almost 40 years ago and was less than impressed by despite all the hype and its long stay at the top of the best sellers list. Smilla is a much better read.

Peter Høeg, 1992, Miss Smilla’s Feeling For Snow. Harper Collins. ISBN-13: ‎ 978-0002713337

⏩Follow on Twitter @AnthonyMcIntyre.

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