Review: Erik Axl Sund – The Crow Girl

Reviews

The-Crow-Girl-by-Erik-Axl-Sund-665x1024The Crow Girl is a book that I’ve been dying to read for the last few months. It’s been marketed as this year’s hottest Scandinavian thriller and I was intrigued to discover what makes it stand out amongst the other Nordic offerings. It’s also been translated by my favourite Scandi translator, Neil Smith. His translations are always a joy to read which is crucial for this book because, at 768 pages, the prose has to be compelling enough to keep the reader interested. I don’t mind reading a book this length, at least not once in a while, but it’s impossible to carry around the hardback in your bag which meant snatched chapters here and there when I sat down to read.

However, one sleepless night I got seriously into the book and read about half of it into the early hours. It’s the perfect time for a book where the violence is dark and shocking. Regular readers of this blog know that excessive descriptions of gore don’t do it for me and you should be warned that the threat of horrific death is there from the first chapter. However, like Pierre LeMaitre’s excellent, Alex, the violence is essential to the plot. For the crow girl of the title is the damaged Victoria Bergman whose abuse from an early age is explicitly detailed. This is more than a story of the abused becoming an abuser, however. The relationship between Victoria and her psychiatrist Sofia Zetterlund is complex and contains plenty of surprises as does Sofia’s romance with detective Jeanette Kohlberg.

Unusually I’m not going to precis the plot. It would be too easy to giveaway spoilers and one of the book’s strengths is the complexity of the narrative strands where nothing is as it seems.

So what keeps the interest going for such a lengthy book? Firstly the character of Victoria is fascinating in its complexity and the reader never feels comfortable in making any assumptions about her motives. Secondly the authors (Erik Axl Sund is a pseudonym for Jerker Ericsson and Hakan Axlander Sundquist) have cleverly constructed the plot so that reader is sent in all directions. The chapters are very short, sometimes you feel ahead of the police and others you’re left scratching your head as to what is going on.

Like all great crime novels, the resolution pulls all the narrative strands together  although I must admit there are a couple of points where I’m not sure I understand what happened. What I should do at this point is reread the book but I’ll have to leave that to a time in the future.  However, in my opinion The Crow Girl deserves the plaudits it has received and I was delighted to read a book where neither the length nor extremity of violence felt gratuitous.

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Review: Liza Marklund – Without a Trace

Reviews

512YKfQrIgL._SX317_BO1,204,203,200_Swedish journalist Annika Bengtzon is one of my favourite investigators in modern crime fiction. She’s the principal reason that I read Liza Marklund’s books because, as a character, Annika is so believable. As readers we’ve been taken through a series of failed romances, childbirth, house disasters and work traumas. Annika has remained the same person throughout: tenacious and brave. It’s always a pleasure to revisit her and I’m sorry that we’re nearing the end of the series.

In Without a Trace, Annika is assigned to the story of former politician Ingemar Lerberg who has been found tortured and half-alive in his home. His wife, Nora, is missing and is being hunted by a team led by Nina Hoffman from the National Police Force. But at Kvällspressen, Annika’s paper, her editor-in-chief is being hounded over a documentary he made years earlier about a missing billionaire’s wife, Viola Söderland.

Marklund’s plots often mix politics, work troubles and family life and Without a Trace follows in this vein. She cleverly links the disorder of the victim’s family with that of Annika’s as the journalist attempts to create a home with her new boyfriend, Jimmy, and his children. Her estranged husband, Thomas, is festering after the trauma of captivity in Somalia and his bitterness toward Annika seems extreme but in keeping with his character.

There’s a fair amount of violence at the beginning of the book. The opening chapter isn’t for the faint hearted (like me) but it was great to revisit Marklund’s world. It’s a series that always manages to combine good writing with interesting plots.

Thanks to Transworld for my review copy. The translation was by Neil Smith.