Book Review: The Owl Always Hunts at Night

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The Owl Always Hunts at Night, by Samuel Bjork (translated by Charlotte Barslund), is the second book in the author’s Holger Munch and Mia Krüger series which started with I’m Travelling Alone (reviewed here). Although the protagonists retain the quirks that irritated me in the first book – Munch’s chain smoking, Krüger’s lozenge eating and both constantly in need of sleep – the writing is tighter and I was sufficiently drawn into the plot that these idiosyncrasies proved less of a distraction.

In this book a young woman is found dead in remote woodland. She is naked and posed amongst what look to be ritual objects. Disturbing as this is, the condition of the body suggests that this was not just a murder but that she may have been held for some time before her death. There is little forensic evidence at the scene and those she lived with can offer no suggestions as to why she would have been taken.

Krüger is still suspended from work but Munch is determined to have her back on his crack team at the Norwegian police department’s Violent Crimes Unit. His boss still has concerns about her mental fitness but reluctantly agrees to her return. Throughout the investigation Krüger struggles with depression which at times threatens to overwhelm her and risks compromising her innate ability to spot the clues and associations that others miss.

Other important members of the team include the computer whizz Gabriel Mørk whose hacker friend, Skunk, offers a breakthrough despite his mistrust of the police. Krüger’s treatment of them both is unlikely to encourage future cooperation.

The murder victim had been living in a home for damaged young people. Their provenance adds to the difficulties faced by the investigating team as they try to guess the killer’s identity and modus operandi. There are many potential leads to follow but little proof.

Munch’s daughter, Miriam, also ends up in trouble when she considers indulging in the excitement of an affair, her comfortable existence with her partner now regarded as dull. She seems content to allow her ever willing mother to take on the burden of caring for her child while she contemplates returning to the rebellions of her youth.

Despite struggling to empathise with many of the characters I was drawn into the investigation. The plot has many intriguing twists and turns offering a puzzle that was enjoyable to try to solve. The build up of tension was skilfully managed, the final threads keeping the reader engaged through to the final page.

An entertaining crime thriller even if I didn’t warm to the protagonists. The cold and darkness of the setting were well evoked and the killer, once revealed, was as chilling as they come.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday.

Book Review: I’m Travelling Alone

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I’m Travelling Alone, by Samuel Bjork (translated by Charlotte Barslund), introduces the reader to Holger Munch and Mia Krüger, former members of a special unit in the Norwegian police department’s Violent Crimes Section. When the story opens Krüger is living alone on a remote island property and planning to take her own life. Munch has been dispatched to try to talk her into rejoining the unit following the disturbing murder of a child, an investigation that he hopes will also facilitate his return from the backwater he was banished to following an as yet undisclosed incident in their past.

Krüger is skilled at spotting clues that others miss, forming theories and associations that have enabled her to solve many complex crimes. When she notes that the murdered child has the number 1 scratched onto a finger nail she suggests that further murders will follow. This proves to be correct. A game of cat and mouse ensues as the reformed team race against time to work out motive and find suspects. Just as they are finally beginning to make headway it gets personal. Concerns are raised that neither Krüger nor Munch will be capable of the impartiality required to bring the perpetrator to justice.

The plot offers many threads for the reader to ponder: pre-school children washed and dressed as dolls found hanging from trees; a mysterious religious retreat created in woodland; potential clues presented as codes and riddles. It is not just children who are murdered but also animals. There is a possible link to a care home for the elderly.

I found the story telling slow to start. The background offered was of interest but the measured pace lacked the tension I have come to expect from crime thrillers. I wondered if the tale would work better on television where the brooding, Norwegian landscapes could add to the suspense.

The characters were as I would expect in Nordic fiction although the protagonists had irritating quirks that were repeatedly mentioned. Krüger was forever taking a lozenge, Munch lighting another cigarette. When the pace finally picked up these mentions ceased, as did the persistant reminder that they were functioning on too little sleep. My attention was not sufficiently diverted by what action there was to ignore this manner of writing.

The final hundred or so pages pulled together all of the carefully crafted threads and it was then a thrilling race to the denouement. There were twists that I had not guessed and satisfying endings. The members of the crime team had become three dimensional and I cared about how things would pan out for several of the supporting cast.

Although newly released in English translation, the book is already an international bestseller in at least half a dozen European countries. This is the proposed first in a sequence of novels featuring Krüger and Munch. Perhaps the slower opening pace was felt necessary as a stage setter for the series.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Doubleday.