Review: Some Kind of Peace, by Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff

Siri Bergman is terrified of the dark.
She lives alone, an hour outside Stockholm where she practices as a psychotherapist, her nearest neighbour far away. Siri tells her friends that she has moved on since her husband died in a diving accident. But when she goes to bed at night, she leaves all the lights on, unable to shake the feeling that someone is watching her.
With the light gone, the darkness creeps inside.
One night she wakes to find that the house is pitch black, and the torch by her bedside has vanished. Later, the body of one of her young patients is found floating in the water nearby. Thrown headlong into a tense murder investigation, Siri finds herself unable to trust anyone, not even her closest friends. Who can she turn to for answers?
The truth is hidden in the darkness.

Some Kind of Peace is the debut offering from Swedish pair Camilla Grebe, an audiobook entrepreneur, and Asa Traff, a psychologist specialising in CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy), and is translated by Paul Norlen. From the first sentence, I found myself immersed in the world of the Swedish countryside – the description of the landscape, and the summer, around Siri’s cottage was beautiful and very intricate, and I was immediately drawn in, wondering what could go wrong in this idyllic setting.

Of course, I know exactly the sort of things that could go wrong. I’m a big fan of Scandinavian crime writing. My first experience was the Martin Beck series, by Sjowall and Wahloo, then I worked my way through the works of Mankell, Nesbo, Holt and Lackberg. As a result, I know only too well that the pastoral scenes of Sweden and Norway can hide the most appalling, bloody and baffling crimes. Luckily, these countries seem replete with dogged, imperfect but determined policemen and women, who can’t rest easy until they have caught the perpetrator.

However, Some Kind of Peace presents the reader with something a little different in Siri Bergman. Siri is a psychotherapist, not an investigator. She is a victim, not only of intimidation, stalking, threats, but also of her own damaged psyche. She cannot understand why anyone might want to hurt her in this way, does not want to be a burden to her friends and family by talking about what has happened, doubts her own perception, wondering if she has imagined the whole thing… She is by no means a reliable narrator, making the novel tens and mysterious.

Siri is accompanied by an array of friends trying to help discover who is out to get her: her friend and colleague, Aina, Marcus, the very friendly policeman, Vijay their university contact who specialises in criminal profiling. She’s also surrounded by her patients, who display more or less disturbing thoughts and behaviours, and her lecherous practice-mate Sven. As the plot thickens, Siri starts to wonder who she can trust – who really does have her best interests at heart? And her own insecurities multiply too, as she dwells on her husband’s death. Was it an accident? Siri is forced to reevaluate, and gradually loses control over her life.

I found Some Kind of Peace a really fascinating read, with great insights into the psychology of the criminal mind, as opposed to the traditional police procedural a la Beck or Wallander or rogue-cop of the Harry Hole books. I also found the characters extremely well-drawn, particularly Siri herself. Finally, I found the prose style highly engaging; this is not always the case with books in translation, but I think Paul Norlen has done a very good job expressing the finesse and intricacy of the original. This book has already been a great success in Sweden and I hope it makes a big splash here very soon.

Some Kind of Peace is published by Simon & Schuster

Kate Neilan @Magic_kitten

Why Do We Read Violent Crime?

A number of authors have become as much renowned for the bloodiness of their stories as for the twists in their plots. But just what attracts us to these grisly novels and why do people choose to read violent crime?

Violent crime and horror books have a lot in common. Both can be challenging reads, testing the reader’s boundaries as much as their stomach. In addition, crime novels are also heavily focused on plot: who did it and why? Often with violent crime, we are asking how they did it and with how much blood… Unlike horror films, books are in one sense distancing us from gruesome events, as you are reading words and not seeing the images, but in another sense they become that bit more personal as you are complicit in creating the horrific experience. It is the thrill of being shocked that attracts many readers to the genre and it is one that is rooted in our own society.

Many crime novels are using violence as a way of analysing current issues or concerns in society around us. A number of the Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander novels use violence as a metaphor for the deterioration of society as a whole. Sidetracked deals with the seedier side of Swedish society, with human trafficking, self-immolation and victims who are scalped by a young boy with a psychosis.  The Fifth Woman investigates what might happen if a female killer took the law into her own hands, murdering to punish male abusers. In an interview with The Telegraph, Mankell describes how he wanted to use his detective for good: “Wallender was born in May 1989 out of a need to talk about xenophobia. So the story came first, then him,” he says. “I was writing the first novel out of anger at what was happening in Sweden at the time – the rise of xenophobia. That was my ambition. And, since acts of xenophobia are a crime, I needed a police officer. Even after the second and third books, I really wasn’t thinking of a series. Then I realised I was creating a tool that could be used to tell stories about the situation in Sweden in the Nineties.”

Ian Rankin suggests that what draws people to crime fiction is its capacity to explore and to allow the reader to conduct their own investigations into themselves. In the Edinburgh Review he wrote that “what interests me is the soul of the crime novel – what it tells us about humanity, what it is capable of discussing. […] We are all inquisitive and curious animals – crime fiction touches this deep need to both ask questions to get answers”.

In The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo this concept is taken much further; it starts as a slow-moving detective story but ends with scenes of graphic violence. Larsson laces the fiction with genuine figures relating to violent crimes against women in Sweden, explaining how the fictional Salander, whose own civil rights are taken away, is based on real events. Larsson deliberately destroys the image that the rest of the world may have about Sweden, of Ikea and Abba, and presents a much darker version, a movement begun in 1968 by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo with the Martin Beck series.  In these dark worlds, by solving the crime the detective is in effect saving society and can be read as the triumph of intellect over primitive instinct. It is satisfying to read about the police, a private eye or your average person on a mission getting the bad guy in the end. In real life, we often hear about endless amounts of crime, but very little sense of resolution. At least in fiction we get an ending in which the villain gets what he deserves. 

Some novels complicate matters further with multiple perspectives of the characters making it hard to judge who is ‘guilty’. Of course, in the end, it often becomes clear, but there can be complicated questions about the ‘guiltiness’ of criminals.  In Out by Natsuo Kirino, the reader automatically roots for the women covering up the murder of a gambling philandering husband, even as they dismember his body in a bathtub. Even the police sometimes stray over the line into the dark – Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole has addictions to drugs, cigarettes, violence, women and alcohol which can leave him battling to stay on the side of the good. Jeff Lindsay’s Dexter takes this further with mind games between predator and prey, except with ambiguity about which person is which. We are left rooting for Dexter as he does the dirty work of those that have evaded society’s form of justice and adopts his own.

So it seems that violent crime novels can offer us the thrill of the chase as society’s issues are assessed, all with a promise of a potentially satisfying resolution. For once, those grisly murders might not seem so dark after all…

This article originally appeared on Waterstones.

Robert Chilver – @robchilver