VICTIM WITHOUT A FACE by Stefan Ahnhem

Arnhem_VictimInspector Fabian Risk is the protagonist of this ultra dark Swedish thriller with a quite remarkably high body count. Here’s the blurb:

Two gruesome murders have shocked the Swedish town of Helsingborg. The first victim, a thug who liked using his fists, died with his hands sawn off. His sidekick, a fan of steel-capped boots, was crushed to death feet-first. Both men were bullies in the same class at school. Is someone serving justice after thirty years? Lead investigator Fabian Risk was also a student in that class—which makes him both a potential victim and a suspect …

“Allow me to welcome you to a murder scene that without a doubt qualifies as one of the top-ten worst murder scenes I have ever seen.”

Risk returns home to sleepy Helsingborg try and start again with his wife and two kids after a bruising period in Stockholm – but wouldn’t you know it, on the day he arrives with several weeks of holiday ahead of him, he learns that his old schoolmates are being killed off and before long half a dozen of them are dead – so of course his leave is cancelled, his wife is furious, his kids won’t talk to him and the murderer seems unstoppable. Yes, we may have been here before, though I will say that despite its considerable length (it runs some 550 pages), interest is sustained very well and I did absolutely plough through this at top speed to see what happened next.

“It was time to take another life”

This is Ahnhem’s first published novel (a follow-up, also featuring Risk, is now in the works), his previous credits mainly to be found on TV as a screenwriter (there is even an in-joke about Wallander, a show on which he worked). And certainly one can see how this would make a great small screen serial, with plenty of decent end of episode cliffhangers as each new body is discovered in increasingly outlandish fashion, with attack methods including being burned to death while spread-eagled on a glass table, a Colombian necktie and nastiest of all, a DIY hysterectomy! If this all sounds pretty unpleasant, well, it is and there is also a fair amount of sexualised violence too that is pretty horrible, most notably in a subplot involving the chief of police in Denmark who turns out to be practically as evil a bastard as the serial killer (the Swedish-Danish tension is played up heavily here – haven’t they seen The Bridge?)

The approach is, perhaps unsurprisingly for a Scandi noir, pretty bleak and there is little in the way of redemption or closure for most of the characters. This even applies to our hero, who does seem to be somewhat unfairly picked upon it seems to me, whether it be by his boss, his wife, and even the serial killer, who really goes out of his way to make the poor man suffer! The book is also stuffed with rampant implausibilities, not least a subplot that sees Risk’s wife leave her husband with their daughter once Risk has been attacked by the killer and put in hospital as a result, leaving their fourteen year old son at home to fend for himself! The point of course is to have the reader scream at the absurdity on the page, but keep turning over to see what happens next – which I did, over and over! And yes, that is a compliment.

Thanks very much to the publishers for the review copy – I am not especially well versed in the Nordic crime genre, so this made for a fascinating read. Published in this translation first in Canada, this has now appeared in hardback in the UK with the paperback due shortly. As part of the promotional campaign, from Monday (yesterday, I know, sorry about the delay) the title is being offered as the first ever ‘disappearing book’ with short sections, staves, offered for free, but only available for a limited period of 24 hours before disappearing in Mission: Impossible-style puff of digital smoke. Intrigued? Then go to: https://thepigeonhole.com/books/victim-without-a-face

To find out more about the author, follow him on Twitter, Facebook or visit: http://partnersinstories.se/authors/

***** (3 fedora tips out of 5)

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16 Responses to VICTIM WITHOUT A FACE by Stefan Ahnhem

  1. I’m glad the book drew you in, Sergio, implausibilities and all. And you’re right; Scandi-noir can be really, really bleak. I think one’s got to be in the right frame of mind to enjoy stories that are that dark. I may try it when I’m ready for that sort of story.

  2. Colin says:

    I’m another who has only a passing acquaintance with Nordic crime. Although you did provide me with a couple of Sjowall/Wahloo books in the past which I enjoyed, this sounds a wee bit hardcore for my tastes.

    • It is fairly strong stuff – very much in the Thomas Harris tradition in some respects – well done though.

      • Colin says:

        Yes, I got that impression alright – not one for me though, I fear.

        • If you’ve ever seen The Killing than you’ll have a fairly good idea – I was glad though that they didn;t do anything nasty with the child in jeopardy element – I would have balked at that completely.

          • Colin says:

            Hmm, it’s not a genre, or perhaps sub-genre, that appeals to me. There’s no question as to its popularity with lots of people of course.

          • I was pretty amazed at how it managed to sustain such a length and maintain the suspension of disbelief, which is pretty much did (sorta). Apparently the next book is going to be a prequel, which makes sense as a fair amount of backstory was left completely open (despite the prodigious word count).

  3. Santosh Iyer says:

    Scandi noir is not for me. I generally find it too bleak.

  4. John says:

    Sounds like it has a Theater of Blood or Dr. Phibes vibe to it. If I were 17 years old again I might lap this up. I’m over this kind of thing now. Last book I read had a revenge theme to it with some terrifying vigilante style retribution but there were consequences for everyone involved and it was a lot more hair-raising and thrilling than reading about someone getting their hands or feet chopped off. These days that kind of thing just disgusts me.

  5. tracybham says:

    Sounds interesting. I have many books by Scandinavian authors but I am way behind in reading them. Don’t really need any more bleak books but I will keep this one in mind.

  6. Never read any Scandinavian fiction, Sergio, though I have been reading about some excellent crime fiction coming out of that part of the world.

    • I read some of the early books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö from the 60s and 70s which I liked a good deal and the Icelandic series by Arnaldur Indridason and of course the Stieg Larsson series (which i thought a bit absurd and frankly overrated) but I just don’t know enough about it as it is a huge field now (my mum loves Jo Nesbo for instance)- amazing how it is emerged so quickly and, seemingly, so fully formed.

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