The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund

thecrowgirlbanner.jpg“Don’t take my hate away. It’s the only thing I’ve got.”

This novel is like a cold shock of ice to the psyche.  A deeply complex and disturbing psychological thriller not recommended for the faint of heart. It starts with the gruesome discovery of a young boy’s mummified body and ultimately unravels as a cruel web of sadism and depravity.

Don’t get me wrong – this is definitely one of the best crime thrillers I’ve read this year. The writing is excellent. It was originally published as a trilogy written under a pseudonym by Swedish duo Jerker Erikson and Hakan Sundquist. And the hefty 750-page translation by Neil Smith doesn’t miss a beat. It echoes the skilful plotting of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo and reminded me why I am such a fan of the Scandi-crime genre.

Its protagonists are superbly drawn. At the helm is superintendent detective Jeanette Kihlberg, torn between her career and family, already familiar with the murkiest of humankind, and now pulled into an increasingly unsettling case of sadistic murders and depravity. Her path crosses with the intriguing Sofia Zetterlund, a psychologist dealing with child abuse cases, who is soon revealed to have disquieting secrets of her own.  The novel’s darker edges are haunted by Victoria Bergman, by far the most compelling of its characters; her world is lurid and conjures our worst nightmares.

The plot is taut and unrelenting; it’s hardly ever what it seems and even in its final chapters it reveals ever more grisly details. And while the book is never gratuitous in its themes of child abuse, paedophilia and psychological disorders, it does inflict a sour aftertaste and a desire to leave the light on at bedtime. What it implies is often more horrific than what is written on the page. This is a book that plays with your perception and deceives as frequently as it terrifies. Heart-stopping stuff.

But the subject matter and frequent plot twists do require a resilient reader. After spending just under a month in the den of The Crow Girl, I myself am in need of sunnier reading material. By the end of it, I felt just as tense and emotionally drained as I imagined its characters feeling throughout.

An intense portrait of the human psyche gone terribly wrong.

And one to read with caution.

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn

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A child weaned on poison considers harm a comfort.

Reading this book made me want to take a scalding hot bath and scrub my skin raw. Crack open its spine and you’re spat out onto the streets of Wind Gap, Missouri, where messy truths are covered with a thin, shiny lacquer named small town hospitality and family values.

Journalist Camille Preaker returns to this, her hometown, to report on the murder of two local girls. But grisly crime is not all that awaits her: there is her neurotic, overbearing mother Adora, still nursing a family tragedy of years before; a mean-girl posse of 13-year-olds governed by Camille’s half-sister, Amma; and two dead little girls with their own secrets.

The murder mystery aspect of this novel is probably a little predictable, so if you’re a crime thriller connoisseur who longs to be stunned silly when the baddy is finally revealed… this one might not be for you. That being said, solving the murders is hardly the only reason to read this book.

If you haven’t read a Gillian Flynn before (and even if you had, but need a reminder), Miss Flynn does not write about nice things and the old sugar-spice-everything-nice adage certainly does not reply to any of her female characters. I imagined the women of Wind Gap each trailing an IV relentlessly feeding their veins with malice, while they purr feigned sincerities at their BFF’s. But besides tapping into this insidious undercurrent of this small town, Flynn takes you behind closed doors and shows you the horrors the gossipy next door neighbours can only guess at – and this is where Sharp Objects truly shines.

The relationship between Camille and Adora, between Camille and Amma, and the question that lies at the center of this thriller: are all women meant to be mothers and are all girls meant to be daughters or sisters? Do you truly know someone, even if that person came from your own body, or shares your blood? How much of that person is truly individual, how much is simply an extension of oneself? How much may you lay claim to? The bond between mother and daughter has never been creepier and it makes for darn good reading.

Gillian Flynn by Dark Places

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I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.
Slit me at my belly and it might slide out, meaty and dark, drop on the floor so you could stomp on it.

Ben Day allegedly murdered his mother and two siblings on a winter’s night in 1985. Libby, only 7, escaped the massacre and her testimony ensured a life sentence for the teenaged Ben. Twenty-five years later, Libby – desperately broke and no longer the darling of a murder-fascinated public – is approached by a secret society obsessed with gruesome crimes. The Kill Club, convinced that Ben was wrongly convicted, presents Libby with an enticing and disturbing offer: for a fee, Libby must help them uncover the truth of what happened that night.

Gillian Flynn’s characters reside within the darkest underbelly of the human condition. She has a knack for showing the worst in people, but also inspiring a strange and uncomfortable empathy towards them. Her fictional rural town inhabits a cast of jaded, angry and deeply flawed individuals caught in a desperate struggle for survival.

15-year-old Ben Day is plagued by the consequences of assumption, not-so-quietly whispered rumours and fear-mongering. Shunned, his thoughts and actions turn dark and dangerous, but was this really enough to cause him to commit the unspeakable? Patty Day is an exhausted single parent, with a debt collector breathing down her neck, an abusive former husband knocking at her door and poverty pushing her towards complete despair. Libby Day, now 32 years old, is bitter, broken and frightened as she unravels the events that led to that terrible night.

Dark Places is a terrifying and skilfully crafted murder mystery. It plays into the all too human curiosity about grisly acts and those who choose to commit them out of desperation or cruelty. To be read with the lights on and the front door securely bolted.

Note: Tonight’s perusing brought me to these gorgeous alternative book covers and I’ve decided to add them in here. I feel they perfectly capture this novel’s dark and brooding atmosphere. Found here.