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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Final Girls by Riley Sager

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“We were, for whatever reason, the lucky ones who survived when no one else had. Pretty girls covered in blood.”

Okay. I know that July is still a long way off, but I’ve been itching to write about this book ever since I finished reading a proof copy a few months ago. It is pure crime-junkie heroin, has been tipped as the ‘first great thriller of 2017’ by none other than the master himself, Stephen King, and it is absolutely worth all the hype already brewing online.

If this debut is anything to go by, I hope that we’ll be reading a lot more from Riley Sager in future. Her razor sharp writing carves a plot that will thrill even the most jaded of crime readers. College student, Quincy Carpenter, is found blood-soaked and traumatised at the scene of a forest cabin massacre that claimed the lives of her six friends. She is instantly dubbed a Final Girl by the tabloid vultures – a nickname first given to Lisa Milner several years before when she survived a sorority house rampage, and also to Samantha Boyd, another last-girl-standing following a horrific bloodbath. Despite the media fascination, the three girls never meet, but ten years later when Lisa is found with slit wrists, an apparent suicide, Samantha unexpectedly makes an appearance. Soon Quincy’s attempt at post-massacre normality is disrupted as the volatile Samantha forces herself deeper and deeper into her everyday life. Events spiral recklessly, the plot twists come fast and voracious, and you’ll be breathless and stunned at the end of it all. That final twist will knock your socks off.

This is seriously good reading – definitely one of the books I’ll be eagerly recommending to fellow bookworms this year. And, if you simply can’t wait until mid-year to get your hands on a copy, head over to Dead Good and feed that psychological thriller appetite with a first chapter extract.