I was given a preview copy to use for this Victim Without A Face book review by the publisher earlier this month at The London Book Fair, hence the lack of cover artwork in my photo of the book above.
I quite like a bit of crime writing now and again but it tends to be UK crime authors that I gravitate towards. Rebus & Rankin remain my favourites, and I still love dipping back through old Sherlock Holmes novels now and again.
A good crime story doesn’t have to be modern, it just has to be gripping. The last time I flirted with a Swedish crime novel was The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson. I had been caught up in the earlier hype of the film releases and figured I would give the books a try out.
To be honest, I really struggled with it and found it quite hard going and dull in places. Too much detail about laptop specs and what characters were eating, so I actually abandoned it without getting to the end. That’s rare for me as I usually persevere.
So, my score is nought from one for Swedish crime novels, which I explained to the publisher when she handed me ‘Victim Without A Face’…a crime novel by Swedish author Stefan Ahnhem!
She convinced me quickly that this would be a completely different experience to Larsson’s efforts, so I promised to give it a go. I actually started it on the train home that evening…and I found it very hard to put down for the next few days when I finished it.
This is the first novel by Ahnhem, but he has cut his writing teeth through a very successful screenwriting career previously, working on shows such as Wallander. This book actually won the Crimetime Novel of the Year award in Sweden on 2014 and it is just this year that it is finally being published in the UK.
The book is set in the Swedish coastal town of Helsinborg where the main character grew up, which is the same town that the author grew up in. This ‘return home’ for the writer really adds value to the book as you get a real feel for Helsinborg throughout. The type of atmosphere that could only be set by somebody who knows the actual town inside out.
This is one of my main joys of reading Rankin’s Inspector Rebus novels…I love Edinburgh and Rankin’s hometown knowledge oozes out of nearly every page. The same effect is weaved within the pages of Victim Without A Face.
The main character is a detective called Fabian Risk, which is a pretty cool name for a detective. He is also a risky and edgy character so the name is well suited. At the start of the book Risk is moving his family back to Helsinborg after living in Stockholm (where the author lives in real life now!).
There are hopes from the Risk family of a fresh start after some personal challenges in Stockholm but it isn’t long after arriving ‘home’ that Risk is thrown into a murder investigation of a man he went to school with.
The victim’s hands have been chopped off and are missing. The murdered man used to bully people at school and he always used his fists. Not long after this the story develops to another bully from Risk’s school days ending up as a murder victim. This bully used to kick people with his steel toe boots. His body is found with the feet missing.
From here, after a slowish start to the book, the story really begins to pick up pace and takes you on one hell of a ride until a very action packed finale.
Some of the scenes and writing in the book are quite brutal, and may not be for the faint-hearted, but it all adds to the drama and this is the work of a great story teller who as well as delivering a great novel that may become a modern classis in the genre also cultivates the main characters well throughout. I expect that we will see more development of them in further novels from the Risk series.
There are some glimpses of humour in the book, especially from the toll booth worker character, but this is mainly a harrowing and gritty thriller that brings up questions about the effects on bullying in later life and, if accurate in real life, shows the rivalry between Danish and Swedish police forces when they really should be working together.
Fabian Risk is an interesting character; he is no maverick and can be quite understated. He doesn’t just go with what his superiors tell him to do which is at the heart of any good popular culture detective. Nothing new there then, but delivered really well.
It is quite a long read, running at over 551 pages, but there is the value for money. I hinted above that there is a fairly slow start to the story, so I advise you to stick with it for the first 50 or 60 pages and then it begins to pick up.
The timing of the release makes this a very good suggested holiday read if you like to take a bit of dark Scandinavian drama down to the beach with you.
The release date according to my preview copy is going to be July 2016. It is going to be made available through Amazon but do also speak to your local independent bookstore if you are interested in picking up a copy as they will be able to order one if they don’t actually stock it. Pre-orders are always available for books too wherever you choose to buy from.
Paperback price is going to be £7.99.