“It begins in a Stockholm city park where the abused body of a young boy is discovered. Detective Superintendent Jeanette Kihlberg heads the investigation, battling an apathetic prosecutor and a bureaucratic police force unwilling to devote resources to solving the murder of an immigrant child. But with the discovery of the mutilated corpses of two more children, it becomes clear that a serial killer is at large.
Superintendent Kihlberg turns to therapist Sofia Zetterlund for her expertise in the psychopathology of those who kill, and the lives of the two women become quickly intertwined—professionally and personally. As they draw closer to each other and to the truth about the killings, what surfaces is the undeniable fact that these murders are only the most obvious evidence of an insidious evil woven deep into Swedish society.”
My Thoughts: The Crow Girl is not a novel that is going to garner a lot of attention this summer. It is long, which always scares off potential readers for some reason. Moreover, it is dark. So, so dark. Its subject matter is not for the faint of heart by any means. Yet, for those who do finish it, what they discover is a book that manages to discuss some of the most difficult topics in society with dignity. It does so without resorting to graphic descriptions or other forms of sensationalism. It is a book that dredges the very bottom of mankind but still leaves a reader hopeful.
That is not to say that The Crow Girl is perfect. In fact, it is anything but perfect. For one, while the authors do an admirable job presenting severe mental illness, the narrative becomes extremely difficult to follow at times as a result. This is in part because the narrator is the one suffering from mental illness, so it is as if readers get an intimate look into her mind. However, for this complex story with a large cast of characters, this intimacy also makes it difficult to figure out what is happening.
There is also an issue with the specificity of location. The authors have what could be termed a compulsion to be as specific as possible about the location of the narrative as it progresses. There is an overabundance of street names within the story, which may mean more for someone familiar with Stockholm and the surrounding areas but means absolutely nothing to the average American. That being said, the story gains nothing from this specificity. The authors do this to show that such horrific crimes can occur within any neighborhood with the most unassuming people as its perpetrators, but they could have just as easily made their point with fewer street names and a more generic statement.
Lastly, there is a dullness to the entire novel, as if the authors are so afraid of making a misstep in regards to its touchy subject matter that they omitted emotion from all of the characters. One sees this most in Sofia and Jeannette’s relationship which grows from suspicion to mutual admiration to friendship to love with no fanfare. There is just no connection between them that would indicate a growing closeness. The same holds true for almost everything Jeannette and Sofia face individually. There should be rage and horror, despondency and a deep sense of betrayal. Instead, their stories are simply flat.
In a way, this lack of emotion is a good thing as the subject matter is just so difficult. Severe child abuse, child sex slave trade, severe mental trauma, gruesome murders – The Crow Girl has it all. None are easy subjects, but this novel layers them together in a creative fashion that works surprisingly well. Still, were there that added emotion that would make the characters more realistic, the story might prove to be too difficult for readers to tackle.
The Crow Girl is admirably ambitious in its scope, and the authors succeed fairly well in their attempts to present a grand novel about abuse, mental illness, and murder. The characters might feel flat, but they do grow and develop. More importantly, as hideous as the crimes committed within the novel are, the story ends on a note of hope. It does not have a fairy tale ending in which everyone lives happily ever after, but there is sufficient closure for readers to understand that this is as good as it could possibly get from some of the characters. The fact that some of the cast is able to move on and look towards the future is the greatest indicator of hope there is – hope that good will triumph, hope of survival against life’s greatest traumas.
While The Crow Girl is not the type of novel that will be popular or will generate even a modicum of buzz from the publishing world, I am still glad I read it for it is a fascinating study into the mindset of the mentally ill. This is on top of the fact that it is a decent murder mystery that takes you down several twisty paths before arriving at its heartbreaking conclusion. It is one of the toughest books I have ever read due to its subject matter, but that makes it that much more satisfying upon finishing it.