On this last Sunday of September, as I sip my chai tea and nibble on a slice of freshly baked Date Bread, I am hoping to write this post quickly so I can get outside and enjoy the practically perfect Indian Summer day. It is not too hot, the sun shining down but not too strongly, and there is a faintly cool-ish breeze, all elements that, for me, are just the right weather ingredients for a long, lazy afternoon walk.
I read just one book last week, but it was nearly 600 pages! It was an advanced reading copy of Victim Without a Face by Stefan Ahnhem, which will be published in November of this year. This debut novel is nothing if not ambitious, and explores the extreme consequences of exclusion and rejection. The first in the “Fabian Risk” series, it opens with a description of a man lying naked somewhere in the outdoors while a crow lands on him. What follows is a detailed description of his torture and death. We then meet Fabian Risk as he is moving into his new home in Helsingborg at the start of what should be a six-week involuntary vacation before starting his new job as a detective with the Helsingborg Police. He and his family have left Stockholm after Risk was dismissed from his former position for a miscalculation that cost the lives of two police officers, and he believes a return to his hometown, which he had never even considered before, will give him a fresh start. His career is not the only thing that needs a fresh start; he and his wife, Sonja, have been having marital difficulties, and Risk and his teenaged son, Theodor, have also been having trouble communicating. So they arrive at their beautiful new home full of hope and good intentions. But no sooner have they arrived than the phone rings. Risk sees that it is Astrid Tuvesson, his (future) new boss, and lets it go to voicemail. When there is a knock at the door not five minutes later, he answers it to find Tuvesson on his new, as-yet-unpacked doorstep asking for his help. A former classmate of Risk’s, Jorgen Palsson, has turned up in the school locker room, tortured and left to bleed to death, with his hands cut off. The police also found a copy of the old class photo with Palsson’s face crossed out, hence Tuvesson’s decision to involve Risk. And so, reluctantly, he is drawn into an investigation that gets stranger and more complex every day, with no end and no leads in sight. When Glenn Granqvist is found in his workplace, tortured to death and with his feet cut off, Fabian begins piecing things together. Palsson and Granqvist had been bullies throughout their years at school, paying particular attention to one student, Claes Mallvik. The solution seems close at hand… or does it? As bodies pile up and the scenarios become more complex and bizarre with each murder, it looks like the killer will not stop until the entire class has been eliminated, and it seems that Risk alone holds the key. This Scandinavian page-turner is sure to keep you up late into the night, despite its sometimes unbelievable scenarios. This crime thriller indicates that Ahnhem is an up-and-coming talent to watch out for. While this is his first novel, he is an established screenwriter for both TV and film, and has worked on a variety of projects, including adaptations of Henning Mankell’s “Kurt Wallander” series. I would recommend this to fans of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. It had the same complexity and scope as the Larsson novel, and while it required some suspension of disbelief, it was certainly an entertaining read, a book that kept me reading well past the time that I should have stopped reading and moved on to something else. I am definitely looking forward to the next book in this new series.
And just a quick note on my book club discussion of The Story Hour last Monday. Some of the book club members loved the book, even though they had some of the same issues with it that I had, like the leaps that the author took when describing the characters’ actions or developments, and some of the plotting. These members were able to overlook these issues and focus on the book as a whole. One member, though, really did not like the book, and felt that it was too unbelievable, that the characters would not have behaved the way the author portrayed them, and that the outcomes of their actions were not realistic. This member is a psychiatric social worker who has experience working with vulnerable populations in the community and in a hospital setting, so she was much more analytical than the average reader would likely be. I just remembered that my sister-in-law recommended this book to me some time ago, so clearly other readers have enjoyed this book.
OK, get outside!
Bye for now…Julie