Written by Sander Jakobsen — The idea of the wicked preacher man is a powerful one in crime fiction and beyond – just think of Robert Mitchum in Night of the Hunter. However, The Preacher is not about a Bible-thumping baddie. Thorkild Christensen, the unassuming vicar of Roslinge in Denmark, is actually the victim here. His wife Karen was shot down while out for a morning walk, and her body callously dumped in a stream at the end of their garden a day or two later.
Roslinge only has one resident policeman, so detective Thea Krogh takes a team to investigate. It’s murder in a small town, so at first nearly everyone falls under suspicion. However, clues and motives are hard to uncover. Karen was a remote person, and even Thorkild and her adult children weren’t very close to her. She did the duties of a vicar’s wife with no fuss, but lived an almost separate life. Perhaps she was having an affair? And what did she do every Tuesday evening? Marked in her diary are some initials nobody can decipher. So, bereaved preacher Thorkild struggles to come to terms with her death, and it dawns on him how little he really knew her.
Then, in a town further north, another woman is shot dead. Sanne Andersen was another quiet person – no friends and few interests, she rarely left the flat where her body was found. In addition to the fatal bullet wound, she’s been shot through both hands, like stigmata. Her brother Frank is distraught, realising that he too didn’t know his loved one very well. So he starts doing his own research and what he discovers makes him even more angry and upset.
Up in Roslinge, meanwhile, Thea Krogh and her team have stalled. The grocer’s 4×4 was stolen and later returned, and Karen’s blood is found inside. The grocer’s down-on-his-luck cousin falls under suspicion. Things are getting very edgy in the community but everyone has an alibi. Then a major new clue arrives – an old lady who saw Karen the morning she was killed sees Sanne Andersen’s photo and recalls having seen her near the river the morning Karen died. Is the lady mad, or are the crimes connected?
Meanwhile, Frank contacts Thorkild to talk about Sanne’s death and they form an unlikely alliance. Frustrated and wanting answers, they begin their own impromptu investigation into what Sanne and Karen might have been up to, and why they had to die.
Reminiscent at times of Karin Fossum, The Preacher is about far more than an investigation. The book looks deeply into how a killing affects those left behind – Thorkild, Frank, friends, the police, and the community beyond. There’s a detailed look at the thoughts and feelings of all involved. New friendships emerge between Thorkild and Thea, and between Thorkild and Frank. Even though the detective work moves at a snail’s pace, and the plot seems to drag for long period, the dialogue and characterisation are deftly handled. Thea seems genuinely moved by Thorkild’s grief. The writing team behind this book – Dagmar Winther and Kenneth Degnbol – are gifted with characters and have constructed an intricate psychological premise for their debut novel.
It’s not the type of book you can read for 10 or 15 minutes here and there on the train. You’ll need to sit down for an hour or more at a time and let the tension build gradually until, the villain takes true form in the final chapters. Will Thorkild Christensen ever find the answers he needs, or will he and Frank botch the police investigation and see the person behind the killings escape into the night?
You can read our interview with the authors here.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars