Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff – More Bitter Than Death

More Bitter Than Death is the latest book by Swedish Crime Writing duo Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff. I read their debut More Bitter than Deathnovel, Some Kind of Peace, last year although I notice I didn’t review it on this site which is a strange omission as I remember enjoying it. Both tone and setting reminded me a little of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway novels.  I also liked this follow-up, which was written with a keen appreciation of the subtle trauma involved in domestic abuse, although I do have some reservations about the depictions of violence. Once more it has led me to reflect on what level of detail, when it comes to descriptions of violence, is acceptable and in particular why we need to be treated to such graphic depictions of assaults on women.

Five year old Tilde hides under a table and watches as her mother is kicked to death. Stockholm police focus on the woman’s current boyfriend, Henrik, who has a history of domestic violence. Henrik’s ex-wife is a member of a new support group that brings together victims of abuse. Each has their story to tell but when violence impinges into one of their meetings, the dangers of their situation is suddenly brought into focus. Psychotherapist Siri Bergman, who is struggling to adjust to her own more settled domestic situation, becomes drawn into the lives of the women although the lines between professional and personal are increasingly blurred.

The opening scene which sees Susanne Olsson kicked to death is in some ways unrepresentative of a book that is both spookily tense and also spends time drawing out the multi-layered impact of family abuse. The tone of the writing is, in general, reflective and sober with emphasis on the lives of the victims. But the depictions of the killings were fairly graphic and as the narrative involves a child witness, I found that it gave the book an air on unreality. Without wanting to give too much of the plot away, how likely is it that the same child will witness two separate killings of unrelated women?

It’s a shame as this series has a lot of things going for it. But the violence made me stop short and question the legitimacy of the whole narrative. A lighter touch, I suspect, would have been much more successful.

Thanks to Simon and Schuster for my review copy. The translation was by Tara Chase.

8 thoughts on “Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff – More Bitter Than Death

  1. Sarah – Thanks for your review. I wonder too – very often – how much detail we need about certain things. I liked Some Kind of Peace, but this one sounds a bit darker. And as you say, the likelihood that the same person would witness two murders isn’t great. I’ll probably still read it, but I’ll have to wait until I’m ready for that violence.

  2. I’m not sure why so many books begin with a very violent prologue, but it’s one of my pet peeves. Is it a marketing decision? Sometimes I think I’d be better off just skipping the prologues and jumping in with chapter one instead.

  3. This certainly doesn’t sound like a pleasant topic. I am sure I will try the series opener sometime, although I have lots of books ahead of it. When I get to this one, I will consider whether I want to read it or not. It is interesting how different readers react to violence. Some books I have complained about as too violent or graphic have not bothered others at all, and vice versa.

    • I know, Tracy and in terms of the graphic nature I have read worse. I suppose it’s the level of detail seen through a child’s eyes that I found distasteful.

  4. I’ve just finished this. I did enjoy the story, though felt the topic was a bit heavy handed at times – it almost bordered on lecturing rather than storytelling. I really like Siri as a character, and enjoyed the refreshing authenticity of her relationship with Markus. One odd point: it’s set not only in the city I live, but right in my neighbourhood – I cross the square where their office is most days, and I found some of the geography a bit jarring. Random little things, like she refers to traffic whooshing by on Götgatan, when there are two traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing at the only section of Götgatan one would be able to hear from a building on Medborgarplatsen – the traffic never whooshes! Without wishing to give anything away, I wish that the new bit of information that we learned on the last page or so had been threaded in earlier – I liked the balance it provided and would have preferred it had been part of the climax rather than a final little twist.

    • Really interesting comment, Claire. I’m not a big fan of ‘twists’ in crime fiction anyway and I do know what you mean about the final few pages.

      It’s always strange reading about places you know well. I remember reading a Greek crime novel while I was living there DVD s scene was set in my local cafe. I’m not sure less informed readers would spot the anomalies regarding traffic but it’s interesting you found it intruded on your reading.

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