The Killing by David Hewson

2 Mins read

The Killing proved to be a sensation when it appeared on British screens last March. And this despite it being 20 episodes long and broadcast in the original Danish with subtitles. Viewers were captivated. Gleefully we tweeted phrases in Danish. The cult following couldn’t get enough of Forbrydelsen and its obsessive, jumper-wearing detective Sarah Lund. It spawned a US adaptation, a second series, and a third one is being made. Now we have this English novelisation of series one – something we looked forward to massively here on Crime Fiction Lover.

There’s an introduction from David Hewson, a cast of characters and even a quote from Cicero at the front of the book, but the opening line of the story tells you everything, really: “Through the dark wood where dead trees give no shelter Nanna Birk Larsen runs.”

The book is imbued with that bleak, cold, dark and damp atmosphere – plus the tension and psychological stress – we enjoyed on TV. Taking place over a three week period in November, it’s about the disappearance of Nanna, the daughter of Theis and Pernille Birk Larsen. Her raped, beaten and drowned body is found in a car pulled from a swampy ditch on the outskirts of Copenhagen and it’s the job of Sarah Lund and Jan Meyer to solve the murder.

The car, it turns out, was a pool car used by Troels Hartmann and his entourage. Hartmann is the Liberal candidate running to be elected Lord Mayor of Copenhagen and via the vehicle his proximity to the case forms a second strand of the storyline. Political machinations within Hartmann’s troubled team and between him and the incumbent mayor, plus his own sorry past, bring a whole different moral element to the story – all to do with trust, image and integrity.

Meanwhile, the Birk Larsens are in a horrible predicament. Their daughter has been killed, they don’t know who did it, and their removals business is suffering. Lund and Meyer only seem to be going back and forth between suspects. A classmate of Nanna’s? The teacher? The driver? Someone in city hall? One of their labourers? The family begins to implode and they also don’t know who they can trust.

As the star of the show, Lund’s life is in no better state. This was meant to be her last case before moving to Sweden with her son Mark and fiancé Bengt, for a better life. However, obsessed with solving Nanna’s murder she neglects her child, her man, her mother, her sanity and, indeed, her wardrobe. Fans of the series will be pleased to know that changes of her Faroe Island jumpers are closely monitored by the author.

Hewson’s prose is striking. It’s spare and curtailed compared to his Nic Costa series, which is set in sunny Italy. He recounts what you’d see if you were watching the DVD, but also gives glimpses of what the characters are thinking and experiencing. The thoughts of Lund, Theis Birk Larsen and Hartmann are never deeply explored, but he gives just enough so that the tense psychological aspect of the story germinates and thrives in your imagination. Similar to Scandinavian furniture design, there’s a practical, minimal feel and, like Ibsen, it’s even got traits of existentialism.

At 707 pages, The Killing is a jumbo and that’s where it falls down slightly. The pace, particularly within the political plotline, lags in the third quarter of the book. It’s much more satisfiying and compelling when the murder investigation gathers pace again in the final chapters. You’ll be guessing right up to the end and, even if you watched it on TV, the climax won’t be quite what you expect. Whether you’ve seen The Killing or not, Hewson has produced a gripping read. Though he is English, the author deserves a place in the pantheon of Scandinavian crime fiction alongside the show’s producer Søren Sveistrup who came up with the original story.


CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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