Publication: Vintage on 6 April 2017
It starts with just one body – the hands bound, the skin covered in marks.
Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg is determined to find out who is responsible, despite opposition from her superiors. When two more bodies are found, it becomes clear that she is hunting a serial killer.
With her career on the line, she turns to psychotherapist Sofia Zetterlund. Together, they uncover a chain of shocking events that began decades ago – but will it lead them to the murderer before someone else dies?
Warning: one of the darkest books I have read
I have taken my time getting to this book, because although I really wanted to read it, I knew it was going to be full of dark and difficult themes and as it is a long read, not one that I was lightly going to recover from.
The Crow Girl is a chunky, meaty and very dark read. It takes a while to get into, but once you do, you are transfixed.
A mummified body of a mutilated, tortured boy is found in Stockholm, and the case is assigned to Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg. Jeanette has struggles of her own as a woman in a predominantly male workforce and she faces sexism and pejoratives at work, though her relationship with her colleague Hurtig, is sound.
At home, Jeanette is the breadwinner while her husband Ake looks after Johan, their son and has spent the last twenty years striving to become an artist whilst refusing ever to actually exhibit anything.
As Jeanette begins her investigation her job is immediately made more difficult because the child is clearly an immigrant and therefore her bosses do not see themselves under the same political pressure to solve this case as they would have done had the child been a Swedish national.
This child’s body is the first of many that will be found and Jeanette will find herself facing the worst kind of evil and depravity, some of it closer to home than she could ever have imagined.
Jeanette enlists the help of psychotherapist, Sofia Zetterlund, to help her draw up a psychological profile which will be used to help identify the characteristics of the killer.
The early part of the book centres on the crimes and investigation; the middle is predominantly concerned with the impact of psychological trauma on the injured and abused, and last part of the book deals the purging and release of repressed emotions and the cost of reconciling the trauma in order to deal with it and move forward.
This is a multi-layered, complex book and in order to get to the truth, the reader has to follow the silkworm’s threads of clues, thoughts and emotions until the thin, gossamer strands slowly unfurl to reveal the truth.
What Jeanette and Hurtig uncover means their lives will never be quite the same again.
Paedophilia, violence, rape, child abuse and mental and psychiatric illness all feature very heavily. This is corruption and vileness at the heart of Swedish life unveiling the immense depravity and inhuman behaviour that will strike heavily at the reader’s heart.
So it is altogether right that leading the investigation are two strong women who know what it is to have to face their demons.
Nicely paced, intricately plotted and with a complex narrative structure, there are so many twists and nuances that it takes quite a while to truly understand what is going on. This is a dark and exceptionally strong story told without gratuitous gore or violence, but with sufficient detail to understand how repellent these crimes really are.
Never less than compelling, this is not a book for the faint hearted, but it is a superb example of the best of Scandi Noir.
About Erik Axl Sund
Erik Axl Sund is the pen name of Swedish author duo Jerker Eriksson and Håkan Axlander Sundquist. Erik Axl Sund is the author of four novels so far: Crow Girl (2010), Hunger Fire (2011) and Pythia’s Instructions (2012), that form the trilogy about Victoria Bergman, and Glass Bodies (2014), the first stand-alone novel in the new Melancholia trilogy.
These dark and addictive novels became an immediate success in Sweden, both critical and commercial. The Victoria Bergman trilogy is the latest literary phenomenon in Swedish crime fiction and a milestone in contemporary crime fiction in general. In the US, UK, China, Korea, and several other countries, the three novels in the trilogy have been published merged into an explosive one-volume edition in 2016.
The Victoria Bergman trilogy received the ‘2012 Special Award’ from the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers. The academy highlighted the trilogy’s “hypnotically captivating psychoanalysis in crime fiction form.”
After publishing Glass Bodies in May 2014, Erik Axl Sund is now working on the second stand-alone installment in the new Melancholia trilogy, to be published in Sweden in 2018 by Swedish publisher Ordfront.
Jerker Eriksson was born in Gävle in 1974. Among many other jobs, he has been the producer of Håkan’s electro punk band i love you baby! and has toured with the band in many countries in Eastern Europe. He has also worked as a caretaker, loader, warehouse manager and prison librarian. He currently lives in Stockholm with his wife Sara.
Håkan Axlander Sundquist was born in Linköping in 1965. Before starting his writing career with Jerker, he has worked as a sound engineer, musician and artist, with more than 50 art exhibitions in Scandinavia. With his band, he toured in many Eastern European countries in the early 2000’s. He currently lives in Stockholm with his girlfriend Nina and their one-year-old son Ante.