Complex, well thought out Nordic thriller
- Book: After She’s Gone
- Location: Sweden
- Author: Camilla Grebe
I was very excited when I stumbled across THE ICE BENEATH HER earlier this year. I love Scandinavian thrillers, and Camilla Grebe ticked all the boxes for me with her police procedural. I was hoping to see psychological profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schön back in another book, and with AFTER SHE’S GONE my wish has been granted!
The story starts out with the type of atmospheric setting that makes this book series so irresistible for me. Ormberg, a small backwater town amidst a large Swedish forest in the snow is as good as it gets as far as backdrops to dark Nordic thrillers go. Add a few eclectic small town characters, an abandoned factory, a mysterious cairn and a couple of bodies and the scene is set. It was at this point that I knew I was in for a real treat, and the book surely delivered it all!
Grebe uses three narrators to tell her latest story, and manages to pull off one of the most difficult things a writer can do – to make each of them as interesting and compelling as the others, so I was equally invested in all their fates. Jake, a young teenage boy who witnesses something on a dark winter night that will have huge implications for many lives – but he cannot tell anyone, for reasons of his own. Malin, a young police officer who had been born and raised in Ormberg and has now been forced to return here from her new city home to help with a murder investigation. And last but not least there is Hanne, who has been found wandering the dark forest covered in blood and no memory of what has happened to her. Peter, her lover and partner has disappeared and the police hold grave fears that he has come to harm.
Grebe has created a multi-faceted plot here that takes some time to establish, but she does so skilfully and with that constant air of underlying menace and tension that makes this genre so compelling for me. As the small town of Ormberg came to life in my mind, I realised that it shares the characteristics of small dying towns everywhere. In a place where people have been robbed of their livelihoods by outsourcing, where small businesses have long gone bust and resentment is rife, a simmering hatred is looking for someone to blame. And who could be more convenient scapegoats than the group of asylum seekers that have been houses in the abandoned factory buildings? Grebe brings up a lot of contemporary issues here, which made this both an entertaining but also thought provoking read.
If you have met Hanne in Grebe’s earlier novel, you will know that she has a long battle ahead of her. Suffering from early onset dementia she is faced with losing everything she holds dear. Her struggle is well portrayed, and my heart ached for her in this latest book. I am not sure how Hanne will fare, but she seems so real to me that I am truly saddened by her plight. To help her remember, Hanne keeps a journal where she writes everything that happens in her day, which allows her to still use her extensive knowledge of criminal profiling to assist in murder cases. Her diary features strongly here, even maybe not in the way you would expect. It gives a heartbreaking insight into her life, and one that made this book touch me in a way that many other police procedurals haven’t managed to.
I really appreciated the way Grebe slowly leads us to the final reveal in a way that the reader can follow the breadcrumbs and see where they are leading – only to be completely gobsmacked by another aspect of the story that was simply genius. So whilst I could see some aspects of the final reveal fall into place, I was not prepared for the whole complexity of this very clever plot!
All in all, AFTER SHE’S GONE is a perfect read for anyone who loves complex, well thought out Nordic thrillers featuring contemporary issues and an atmospheric setting. I have really come to love this series and hope that the next instalment will be translated into English soon so I can find out how Hanne will fare in future.