The Detective Varg Series

In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult- cases for the Department of Sensitive Crimes and Detective Ulf Varg.

Titles in this series

The Department of Sensitive Crimes

ISBN: 9780525565673
Publisher: Anchor Books (Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: First published 16 April 2019 by Pantheon (Penguin Random House)

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a Scandinavian Blanc novel. Scandinavian Blanc is different from Scandinavian Noir: there is nothing noir about the world of Ulf Varg, a detective in the Sensitive Crimes Department in the Swedish city of Malmo. Ulf is concerned with very odd, but not too threatening crimes – injuries to the back of the knee caused by an unknown hand, young women who allow their desperation for a boyfriend to get the better of them, and peculiar goings-on in a spa on Sweden’s south coast.

Of course, Ulf is a Swedish detective, and Swedish detectives, by convention, lead lives beset with problems of one sort or another. For a start, there is his name: Ulf derives from the Old Norse word for wolf and Varg means wolf in modern Swedish. But his character is far from vulpine: Ulf is a sympathetic, well-educated, and likeable man, with a knowledge of and interest in Nordic art. He has a dog called Marten, the only dog in Sweden who is capable of lip-reading (but only in Swedish). Marten becomes depressed and needs treatment. Dogs in Sweden are, apparently, particularly prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But this is summer – and there must be something else going on.
Ulf has a number of colleagues into whose lives we gain an insight. There is Anna, married to an anaesthetist, but very fond of Ulf; there is Erik, whose sole interest is fishing; Carl, whose father has written a book on the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard; and there is poor Blomquist, from the uniformed branch, who goes on and on about health issues but who seems to have extraordinary luck in investigations. There is also Ulf’s psychotherapist, Dr Svensson, whose observations on Ulf’s life – and many other topics – enlightens – or possibly confuses.


‘Tucking into a brand-new mystery series by Alexander McCall Smith is a lazy-dazy pleasure . . . What binds the stories are the tight relationships of Varg and his colleagues and their hilariously human crotchets.’
Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review
‘As usual, the interpersonal relationships Smith so sensitively portrays and the ethical issues he raises matter far more than the sleuthing. Fans of gentle mysteries will look forward to the sequel.’
Publishers' Weekly
‘The chronicler of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency and 44 Scotland Street takes on Nordic noir. Guess who comes out on top.’
Kirkus Reviews
‘It’s like AA Milne meets Karl Ove Knausgaard. McCall Smith knows how to create a world full of sweet things and emotionally true moments and in this new series of “Scandi blanc” delivers exactly what his fans will be hoping for.’
The Financial Times
‘It’s hard to imagine a less dark Scandinavian police novel, or one that is more winning.’
Christian Science Monitor
‘This fan wishes that she had the money, youthful vigor and talent to bring this new book to the streaming world of modern-day television. Yes, it’s that good… If it is possible, Smith has outdone himself, and that is quite the accomplishment’
Book Reporter
‘Department of Sensitive Crimes will tickle your funny bone and resonate in your heart’ 
New York Journal of Books
‘McCall Smith’s humour is usually described as gentle, but readers familiar with the rhythm of his writing will find plenty here to make them snort… readers who get the joke – and it is a good one – will be eager for the next instalment’
The Scotsman
‘Equal parts hilarious and heartening… but most of all, I appreciated the philosophical underpinnings of the novel—a belief in goodness, kindness, and affirming joy’ 
Criminal Element
‘Stirring up werewolves, a depressed dog and lots of fun… The author of more than 80 books has not lost his literary touch, but his latest account of the doings at Sweden’s Department of Sensitive Crimes hits a new high of hilarity’ 
Washington Times
‘Prescription for a soul that feels the world is too hard a place to bear: Make a soothing cup of tea and snuggle up with The Department of Sensitive Crimes… Reading a novel by Alexander McCall Smith feels as if a soothing balm is being applied to all the hurts and injuries inflicted by the world around us. This may be a new series set in Sweden, but it carries all the hallmarks of a McCall Smith story: plenty of heart and quiet wisdom’ 
A Limelight Review, SMSA, Sydney
‘Ever since Stieg Larsson let loose the avenging angel Lisbeth Salander, Sweden has been painted in the darkest shades of noir in fiction in spite of that country having one of the lowest crime rates in the world… Alexander McCall Smith sets the record straight with panache’ 
The Hindu

The Talented Mr. Varg

ISBN: 9780593081228
Publisher: Anchor Books (Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 2 March 2021

Spring is coming slowly to Sweden – though not quite as slowly as Detective Ulf Varg’s promised promotion at the Department of Sensitive Crimes. For Varg, referred by his psychoanalyst to group therapy at Malmö’s Wholeness Centre, life now seems mostly a circle of self-examination, something which may or may not be useful when it comes to the nature of his profession and the particularly sensitive cases that have recently come to light.

All in a day’s work for Detective Varg, except that one of his new investigations involves fellow detective Anna; it will require every ounce of self-discipline he has in order to remain professional. The other, more curious case is centred around internationally successful novelist Nils Personn-Cederström. According to his girlfriend, Cederström is being blackmailed – but by whom and for what reason?

Accompanied by his irritating but kindly colleague Blomquist, Varg begins his enquiries and soon the answers fall neatly into place. Nothing and no one is ever that simple, however, and not for the first time he learns as much about his own emotional and moral landscape as he does about the motives of others. Now Varg must make a possibly life-changing decision. Will he choose his own happiness over that of his heart’s desire?


‘Reading the novel feels like a form of meditation . . . There is much to enjoy’
The Scotsman
‘Highly enjoyable . . . [Alexander McCall Smith] has a supreme talent for sketching truly likeable characters. His novels are full of human quirks and the bizarre minutiae of everyday life.’
The Independent

The Man with the Silver Saab

ISBN: 9780593313633
Publisher: Anchor Books (Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 7 June 2022


The Man with Silver Saab is the third book in the Detective Varg series.

Perplexing, unfathomable, and perhaps unimportant, the cases that Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Crimes take on will test them to their limits.

Life – and crime – is not always as it seems for Ulf Varg and the other fearless detectives in Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Crimes. There are always surprising new cases to take on, and the latest batch is no exception. And that’s not to mention Ulf’s struggle to contain his feelings for his colleague Anna Bengsdotter. All in all, things are distinctly difficult in Malmo, and it seems up to Ulf and the Department to set them right.


‘We read him first for his charm; he is a reassuring writer. He is also a serious one. He doesn’t preach, but he is concerned with how we should live, how we should treat others. The nature and importance of friendship and love are two of the themes which recur in all his work… a writer of some real importance’
The Scotsman
‘McCall Smith’s detective series set in Sweden, which he calls Scandi Blanc, is a brighter version of the unrelenting bleakness and violence of the Scandi Noir genre… in the cheerful setting of bright and sunny Swedish summers’
The Herald
‘Another lovely humorous dept of sensitive crimes instalment. So many lovely little incidents and some great witticisms’ 4 star review
‘brilliantly pitched and packed with humour…with witty, intelligent writing, sophisticated characterisation, as well as McCall Smith’s effortless storytelling ability, it makes you think and makes you laugh. A fantastic summer read’
Scottish Field
‘The novel’s pleasures lie in Ulf’s philosophical asides and comments on how to live a good, just life… Smith’s gift is to use crime as a structure for writing about morality and making it such a pleasure to read. This is a refreshing change from the standard Scandinavian noir fare’
Publisher’s Weekly, Starred review
‘a bunch of immensely likeable characters with wonderful quirks and interesting names, who solve unusual crimes which require a delicate touch in Malmo Sweden. Throw in some gentle humour and a few plots twists. What’s not to love? 4 Star Review
‘The right balance of humour, character development , plot, and a bit of philosophy on life… a delightful read’ 5 Star Review
‘Ulf Varg does not disappoint in this instalment. So glad he is moving on with his life too’ 5 Star Review
‘Bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith has taken the noir out Swedish crime fiction in his latest series starring the warm-hearted detective Ulf Varg’
ABC Radio interview

The Strange Case of the Moderate Extremists (eBook Original)

ISBN: 9781984898524
Publisher: Vintage Books (Penguin Random House)
Publication Date: 26 February 2019