Somewhere there is a book of rules that must be followed by writers of police procedurals, and high on the list is that senior investigating detectives must be difficult folk, with troubled personal lives, possibly prone to addiction of one kind or another. The addiction can range from being relatively harmless, like Mark Billingham’s Tom Thorne and his love of mournful country songs by Hank Williams, via Nero Wolfe’s gluttony, right through to Sherlock Holmes and his occasional use of cocaine and morphine.
Norway’s Samuel Bjork ticks the boxes with his Olso cops Holger Munch and Mia Krüger. Munch is a bearded bear of a man, overweight and stuffed into his habitual duffel coat like a fat foot into a shoe two sizes too small. His home life is in disarray. Separated from his wife, his daughter Miriam recovering from a serious injury, he seems to treat those people with – at best – edgy tolerance, but his obsession is with the job, and catching criminals. Krüger’s back story makes Munch’s people look like candidates for a TV breakfast cereal advert emphasising warm family values. The story opens with her recovering from – in no particular order – alcoholism, a fatal shoot-out after which she was accused of murder, and the haunting death of her sister, victim of Oslo’s drug scene.
There is a brief but vivid prologue taking place fourteen years before the main story, which then relates a series of bizarre killings. The dead include a ballet dancer found in a remote lake, a jazz saxophonist lying on a bed in a flea-bitten budget hotel, a teenage boy in the boot of a burning car, and a Catholic priest slumped in his own confessional. All have died from being injected with antifreeze, and the killer has left a clue – a number – at each site.
Seasoned veterans of the serial killer genre will know that there are several variations on a theme as regards the answer to whodunnit? Sometimes the author gives little clues along the way, but the best writers have very devious minds, and often these little hints are designed to lead readers off in the wrong direction. One version of this trope is when some chapters allow us to observe events through the eyes of the killer, but again, how reliable is the narrator? The Boy In The Headlights uses another method altogether, which intially involves a red herring the size of a Great White Shark, but to say more would spoil the fun.
The adage suggests that it is better to travel hopefully than to arrive, and I felt that the only weakness of this book was in the final resolution. The journey, however, is a brilliant roller-coaster, with great dialogue, convincing sub-plots and a real feeling of pace and urgency. Munch and Krüger are partners made in crime fiction heaven, and both the atmospheric geographical setting and the police procedural detail are impressive. The translation, by Charlotte Barslund, seems faultlessly fluent, but then I suppose we monoglots are in no position to judge. The Boy In The Headlights is published by Doubleday/Penguin and will on the shelves and available for download from 21stMarch.
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about the previous two Munch and Krüger novels