Where Monsters Dwell by Jørgen Brekke is the debut in translation of a whodunit-slash-literary thriller featuring Virginia cop Felicia Stone and Inspector Odd Sinsaker of Norway as they face distant murders linked to old journal of a 16th-century serial killer (available February 11, 2014).
When I received the offer, I jumped at the chance to review Where Monsters Dwell. I learned the book was a bestseller in Norway, and as a big fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, I looked forward to the chance to read a brooding tale that would also explore social issues. I was thinking Henning Mankell, Steig Larsson, Arnaldur Indridason…and now perhaps Jørgen Brekke. Couldn’t wait. Somehow, I forgot that not all the Nordic crime writers are out to make a social point, and not all of them are defined by the word “brooding.“ Some just write pure whodunits, plot-driven books where the emphasis is on one thing: identifying the murderer.
Still, has a Nordic crime writer ever written a pure cozy? If so, I haven’t encountered one. Even the writers who don’t explore the underside of Scandinavian society, thereby loading their books with social import, delve into dark areas, and Where Monsters Dwell is a case in point.
From its opening pages, we are presented with a jagged, violent puzzle.
A little boy, in the present day, trembles under his bed, hiding from the unfamiliar man who hit his mother with a crowbar. No luck with his attempt at concealment. The towering man finds the boy and drags him out to the middle of the room by his hair.
In 1528, in Norway, an odd monk has embarked on a mysterious journey. There is something vaguely sinister about this man. He comes by sea to Norway, the land of his birth, and stays in a village inn. He is planning to leave the village soon and continue on through Norway, across fjords, going somewhere, but first he must see somebody. When he sees the man he’s looking for, a beard-cutter and artisan, he attacks the man to take his most prized possessions, his knives. As the monk puts it:
”Better knives cannot be found in all of Christendom."
[And on we go to Poe...]