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NORDIC BOOK REVIEWS: ‘Stigma’ and ‘The Wolf’

Glen is back with two new Nordic book reviews with Stigma by Thomas Enger & Jørn Lier Horst and The Wolf by Samuel Bjørk – what were your thoughts?

Stigma by Thomas Enger & Jørn Lier Horst

What happens when the hunter turns into the hunted? When police officer Alexander Blix is sentenced to 12 years in jail for murder, he discovers that life inside a maximum-security prison is more difficult than he anticipated. However, being behind bars does not prevent the Oslo police from requesting his aid in solving another case. Emma Ramm, journalist and Blix’s crime-solving companion, rapidly assists in unravelling a complex narrative of cross-border crime and murder.

The Norwegian writing duo Thomas Enger & Jørn Lier Horst have never shied away from putting their protagonists through the physical and emotional wringer, and the latest Blix and Ramm book, Stigma, never shies away from showing the deep personal impact of not only the crime itself, but the long-lasting mental impact it has on those investigating it.

Enger and Horst’s plot moves at a breakneck rate, with more twists and turns than a fjord mountainside road. Murder, kidnapping, and complicated human interactions keep the reader wondering from page to page.

Along with the rapid speed, there is also a strong sense of space and seclusion. The usual investigative tandem, separated by prison walls, working together but also separately, each struggling to establish their own new style of working in difficult conditions, each battling their own inner torment.

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Shockwaves from events in 2004 continue to cause ripples and reverberations years later, and when these complicated story arcs converge and become explained, we get a fuller, and more horrific, picture of events. What appears to be a minor occurrence has a far-reaching impact years later, much like ripples on a pond.

Enger and Horst, in a riveting translation by Megan Turney, never stray from the graphic, with a sensitivity to storytelling that leaves some specifics to the reader’s imagination while leaving no question about the genuine atrocities happening.

Of course, there are the standard red herrings and dead ends found in any crime mystery story, but in the greatest Nordic noir traditions, many of these false strands are only pulled together and resolved in the last pages. Fans of Blix and Ramm will also appreciate the fact that not all the plot arcs are entirely completed, hinting to future books in the series.

Readers would be wise to read prior books in the Blix and Ramm series to get the most out of this latest chapter, but Stigma demonstrates that Enger and Horst’s creative team is one of Norway’s finest literary exports.

The Wolf by Samuel Bjørk

There is always a beginning for every crime-solving relationship, a time when solving some of the most distressing of crimes was fresh and new, and the effects of dealing with the worst of humanity had yet to taint the souls of those investigating these horrors.

We’ve already met Munch and Krügger in one of Samuel Bjørk’s earlier works, I’m Travelling Alone, The Owl Always Hunts At Night and The Boy In The Headlights. In The Wolf, Bjørk takes us back to the beginning of the collaboration, with a 22-year-old Krügger being headhunted from the Norwegian Police Academy to help solve the murder of two eleven-year-old boys.

The murder in Norway is a carbon copy of a similar crime committed in Sweden eight years earlier. Both involve eleven-year-old boys, victims who bear physical features, and the staging of the bodies hints at some hidden purpose. Can Munch, Krügger, and the Oslo police investigation team solve what Sweden’s investigators couldn’t?

Child killings have a major community impact, but they also take a toll on the investigators. It’s a theme Bjørk has addressed in previous novels, and while the crime itself is at the core of The Wolf, the impact on the detectives and the foundations of the cooperation featured in previous works play a larger role.

Holger Munch and Mia Krügger have always been an intriguing double act, with the slightly world-weary old school detective forging an unusual combination with the somewhat haunted profiler. We get to see how that cooperation came to be, with Munch recruiting the 21-year-old Krügger before she graduates from the Norwegian Police Academy. We also discover more about the family incidents that haunt Krügger in later works.

This is a complex work, with fresh narrative lines introduced on a regular basis throughout the chapters. While it keeps the reader guessing, several of the new sub storylines feel hurried and get lost in the overall tale arc. After such a well-crafted and comprehensive exposition, the resolution felt rushed.

Aside from that, The Wolf is a welcome addition to the franchise, providing readers with a fast-paced crime procedural as well as a look at the human cost of some of society’s most heinous crimes.

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