The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund
Saga is an Old Norse word meaning an epic story, usually surrounding a family or person. Erik Axl Sund is a composite of both Jerker Eriksson and Hakan Axland Sundquist. Both men are Swedish. The Crow Girl is their first collaboration. It is a saga.
Sofia Zetterlund is a successful psychologist often consulted by the Stockholm police. She is a complex being, solitary for the most part, and in control of her busy life. Or is she?
Jeanette Kihlberg is a senior detective in the homicide department of the Swedish capital’s police force. Highly motivated and professional, she is under serious financial pressure due to her non-earning, aspiring artist-husband. Her stress levels are not helped when the body of a young boy is discovered. He has been tortured and brutally murdered, then discarded like a piece of rubbish. This horror is soon followed up by another as the Stockholm police chase their tails. Jeanette approaches Sofia for a psychological profile of the killer or killers, and the sexual chemistry between them is instantaneous.
As Jeanette’s marriage is floundering, and Sofia is sexually liberated, they move closer together in a stunted romance. But first, there’s the small matter of a serial killer who has flummoxed the cops.
Victoria Bergman is someone who has suffered tremendous physical and sexual abuse as a child and is intent on revenge. She begins a killing spree as she knocks her tormentors off, one by one. But did she kill the young boys? You’ll have to read the book to find out as Rebel Voice is not telling you.
The Crow Girl is a hard-hitting story about paedophilia accompanied by more general child abuse. It deals with that most vile of topics in a firm manner, but approaches it in a way that won’t sicken. However, there is no getting away from the fact that this novel is a somewhat dispiriting read. It has all the ingredients of a typical Scandinavian tale. It’s dark, moody and gloomy. Think of the Lizbeth Salander saga, or Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist and you’ll get the idea.
Sadly, The Crow Girl is not nearly on a par with the quality of the aforementioned. It does claim to have sold more than 2 million copies internationally. That’s surprising as Rebel Voice believes that the novel is just not that good.
There are plenty of twists and turns in the story. The dialogue is suitably sparse although stretched in places. The locations are very good and it is atmospheric. The greatest problem with The Crow Girl is that it’s much too long. It is approximately twice as long as it needs to be. The authors have decided to over-elaborate many scenes. They use too many words. James Lee Burke could have written this story in a much better fashion in half the space. That’s the difference between a very good author and two who are starting out. At times, The Crow Girl dragged. It’s the kind of book that is worth finishing, but only if you manage to struggle through the first third.
Another problem with Scandinavian novels, for non-Scandinavians that is, is the names that are used. Although hardly the author’s fault, it is the case that when you are not familiar with Swedish names, then it can be a tad disorientating when you encounter so many new surnames and place-names, which can become jumbled in a novel of this length. It can interrupt the reader’s flow.
Overall, the premise is good. Jeanette and her team end up investigating a series of murders and disappearance that took place over many years, leading them to believe that a major paedophile ring is involved, one with highly influential members. Meanwhile, Sofia struggles to understand her own past, and fights with her deteriorating mental health. Victoria is just Victoria, hell-bent on revenge.
The story leaps from person to person, all in the third person. The settings also change quickly, from Sweden to Ukraine to Denmark to Sweden. The timelines bounce about all over the place. One passage is in the past, 30 years before, then it’s present day, then 15 years ago, then the present, all the while switching from character to character. It’s too damn much.
The Crow Girl is an ambitious first attempt from Erikssin and Sundquist. It is to be expected that they will improve. They need to. They also need to find a very good editor to cut large chunks out of their work as both seem unable to leave anything out.
As much as The Crow Girl is a book about child abuse, it is also a not-too-heavy foray into the world of psychology, particularly in the case of Sofia. There are also the characters of Victoria, The Sleepwalker, Madeline – who is Victoria’s daughter and victim of the same paedophile ring and also in search of revenge – and The Crow Girl herself. We are tossed violently into their addled minds and dragged on a turbulent ride through the lives of child victims of inhumanity.
For those who appreciate dark Scandinavian literature, this may suit you. For everyone else, The Crow Girl may be an excessively ambitious, morose and interminable story that will put you off after the first few chapters. It’s a pity, as the subject matter is of the utmost importance and deserves to be well told. This is not the book that does it.
Sult scale rating: 5 out of 10. Overly long with too much convoluted content. As a first novel, it’s not the worst book you’ll ever or never read, but it’s far from the best. It will only suit the most undemanding fans of the Scandinavian thriller noir.
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