Translated by Tara Chase — Danish author Anne Mette Hancock is writing the kind of crime fiction that’s perfect for lovers of Nordic noir. Her debut, The Corpse Flower, was a hit in Denmark and appeared in English last year. Now investigative journalist Heloise Kaldan and police detective Erik Scháfer are back in The Collector, where they tackle the mystery of a ten-year-old who goes missing from his school.
Erik Scháfer and his violent crimes team are dispatched to the school shortly after Lukas Bjerre disappears, but leads are scarce. Heloise Kaldan happens to be on the scene as well, supporting her best friend Gerda. The parent of another child, Gerda was the last person to see Lukas when he arrived at school that morning.
There is another link between Heloise and the missing boy. Lukas’ father, Jens Bjerre, is her doctor. By coincidence, he received the call about his son’s disappearance while Heloise was in his consultation room because Heloise is pregnant. Heloise believes that everyone will disappoint her at some point and that the world isn’t a good place – hence she isn’t sure about bringing another child into it. However her boyfriend Martin wants children so she decides to keep the pregnancy a secret until she’s made her decision.
Heloise has a complex personal life and struggles with relationships and trust. She desperately clings to Gerda, a childhood friend, and her family because they are the closest thing she has to family. She’s close to Scháfer and his wife, Connie, who see her as the daughter they never had. As investigators, Scháfer and Heloise have been through a lot together, and they share a common understanding of the bleak world in which they live.
Lukas’ jacket is found with blood on it in the moat at Copenhagen’s Citadel and DNA on the garment is linked to Thomas Strand, an ex-soldier suffering from severe PTSD. Following this lead, the team discover that Strand murdered innocent women and children in Afghanistan for the sake of killing. But why would he kidnap Lukas?
Strand is just one of many possible suspects Hancock throws our way. There’s also the ominous-sounding Apple Man, who works at the local supermarket and adores children. As Scháfer and Heloise try to distinguish the real perpetrator from all the false suspects, time speeds ahead and the chances of finding Lukas alive grow slimmer.
The title of the previous Kaldan and Scháfer novel, The Corpse Flower, referred to a bloom native to Sumatra’s rainforests. Here, the author incorporates another interesting phenomenon. Pareidolia is a tendency for people to perceive faces in random objects, a glitch in the survival instinct, part of our genetic programming. Lukas had an Instagram account where he posted photos of inanimate objects resembling faces. Just before he disappeared, he shared a photo of an old barn door that resembled a face. Heloise Kaldan is certain she has seen the barn recently and follows this lead because it could be related to his disappearance.
The idiom ‘don’t take anything at face value’ is prevalent throughout The Collector. In The Corpse Flower, a woman is seen leaving the crime scene covered in blood, leading both the investigators and us readers to believe she is the perpetrator. Here, we are reminded again to be wary of always trusting or misinterpreting what we see, whether it is a child arriving at school, a face in an inanimate object, or making assumptions based on stereotypes.
The Collector is a moody and atmospheric read, set in Copenhagen during one of the harshest winters. The themes are as dark and disturbing as we have grown to expect from Scandinavian crime fiction. However, it is never overly graphic or shocking. Instead, Hancock strikes a delicate balance between dark and light.
Filled with a tension, misdirection and cleverly placed slivers of humour, it has the perfect level of complexity, challenging the reader without leaving them frustrated or underestimating their intelligence. This instalment in the Kaldan and Scháfer series is even better than its predecessor.
Also see Anders Roslund’s Sweet Dreams.
Crooked Lane Books
CFL Rating: 5 Stars