Monday, 14 March 2016

My Review of "The Crow Girl"

The Crow Girl
It's a good job I received this wirelessly to my kindle so could forget the fact that it's an overwhelming 750 pages long! Initially published as three separate novels, it has now been combined into one book of three volumes. To be honest, I think this works well as it allows you to become totally engrossed in the complex narrative and as each volume ends on a real cliffhanger, it would have been frustrating had I not been able to read on straight away. I don't think I've immersed myself in something so long and so disturbing, shocking and gripping since "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" trilogy!

This book will be compared to Larsson's tour de force, and rightly so. It is written by Jerker Erikson and Hakan Axlandar Sundquist and billed as the "newest crime novel sensation" set in Sweden. Psycological Thrillers from this part of the world are very popular at the moment and I'm sure this book will continue to give readers good reason to seek out "Nordic Noir". This is more than a psychological thriller; this is a masterpiece in crime fiction.

The opening had me completely hooked. An anonymous voice immediately creates a sense that something ominous is about to take place with their preparation for something where "nothing would be left to chance....Fate was a dangerously unreliable accomplice and an unpredictable enemy." It is evident that a room is being made ready- a hidden room in which to keep someone hidden.

We then switch to Detective Jeanette Kihlberg who is in charge of investigating a murder scene where a mummified and abused child's body has been found. There is no gentle introduction to this thriller; there is no where to hide from the heinous crimes you are going to be exposed to over the next 790 pages. This is not for the faint hearted. It is a gritty and incredibly dark novel. By 12% of my way through there had been a handful of pedophile cases, psychiatric cases, high crime rate and at least two murders. And it just kept increasing.

Jeanette Kihlberg comes from three generations of police officers. She has fought hard to get there and she is constantly suffering from a lack of respect from a work place dominated by men. She is the main breadwinner in her marriage, her husband stays at home to look after their son. Kilhberg is caught between guilt, obligation, resentment and ambition throughout the novel. She is a very strong, determined woman. I thought she was a very interesting, well developed character and this novel is very much about women, keeping them at the centre of the storyline.

Another key character is Sofia Zetterlund. She is a therapist specialising in dealing with psychopathic perpetrators. She is a brilliant creation. She is an absolutely absorbing character and I was truly gripped by her. She is complex and fascinating. She spends her life interviewing and working with pedophiles and criminals of the most twisted nature. She gets called to the most harrowing crime scenes. The way her character and her role in the novel develop was totally captivating. It unfolded and evolved in a way that showed Erikson and Sundquist to be skilled writers. Their execution of events, emotions and revelations is one of real genius.

There are lots of characters to keep track of and narratives switch between different voices and locations. The novel travels through Sweden, Denmark, Sierra Leone to name a few and also uses flashbacks and backstories to further layer up the intertwining threads. Each chapter is clearly headed which is really helpful and actually the chapters are relatively brief which means you keep turning, unaware of the length of the overall book. There are plenty of cliffhangers and I kept finding myself saying, "Just a bit more...."

There is some fantastic writing and some excellent lines like, "Can you be evil if you don't feel guilt? Or are feelings of guilt a precondition for evil?" and "How simple everything could be. And simultaneously how complicated." The sentence structure is often short and thoughts and statements are presented with brevity and drama, creating tension and suspense and also implying more about that particular character. For example: "Killing someone is easy. The difficulties are mental.....Empathy, conscience and reflection usually function as hindrances against outbreaks of fatal violence." This is good writing and craftsmanship. It is focussed and fluent. The second volume picks up the pace with shorter chapters, shorter sentences, more drama and an increased sense of urgency.

I'd like to write more and talk about the characters in more detail but can't without spoiling the plot or giving anything away. It's tricky to review such a long, complex novel.

In summary, this is a psychological thriller of the most truest sense. It is psychologically intense and a real exploration of the brain and how it processes past memories and experiences; how it can trick, forget, repress and invent things. It is a novel about abuse, dysfunction and control. It is a novel with a cast of deeply twisted perpetrators, a complex criminal investigation, a high body count and where nothing is straight forward. It is a highly sophisticated and well conceived piece of work which is expertly delivered and proficiently conveyed. It is a box set waiting to happen! It's going to take a while to recover from this read!

Thank you to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review.

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