I’m Travelling Alone: another new name in Nordic noir

TravellingAloneThis atmospheric debut novel is far smarter and more subtle than its slightly clumsy cover title and marketing blurb suggest. I almost left it on the shelf – put off by the suggestion of a serial killer preying on kiddies on international air-flights. But I gave it the benefit of the doubt and was rewarded with a well-plotted, mature and intelligent thriller. It’s one of those ‘leave the afternoon free’ books where you find yourself reading just one more chapter. And then maybe another…

ITA introduces a police investigative team, similar in some ways to Arne Dahl’s special squad, or the old Unit One, but with the emphasis on the lead duo. This pair shares many similarities with Saga and Martin from The Bridge: a savant-style female lead, brilliant but vulnerable and slightly out of step with society, paired with (in ITA) her mentor, a worldly-wise, feet firmly on the floor male detective. The dead body found in the woods pulls both of them back from the brink of obscurity and isolation, and entangles them in a complex and thought-provoking investigation.

The bit-players are also interestingly drawn, from the protective teenage boy living in the backwoods, who takes care of his neglected younger brother, to the high-tech/hacker who is seconded to the task force without knowing exactly what he’s getting involved in. The latter in particular gives the author scope to introduce the investigative team without making the exposition too obvious.

The short chapters switch perspectives between half a dozen concurrent plotlines, a tactic which can be used to artificially enhance an otherwise unremarkable story. In this instance it ratchets up the intrigue while keeping all the key players on the move, gradually drawing the disparate elements together. And unlike some Scandinavian crime fiction, in which the criminal element is almost submerged in a tidal wave of humdrum domesticity, ITA gives the reader enough insight into the core characters to establish them as real people but doesn’t suffocate us in tedious detail.

The writing and translation are rather more ‘plain’ than ‘poetic’, but it’s far from superficial. The author contrasts the bleak hinterland of rural Norway with the thrum of the city, and deftly uses the plot to explore the darker side of the human psyche. ITA examines the loss of a loved one and the destructive tendencies this can unleash – ranging from murder to conspiracy to suicide. The way that different characters react to similar experiences forms the skeleton of the story, over which the author skilfully drapes the more obvious plot of the police procedural. There’s also a nifty social commentary subplot, involving the care of the elderly and an extremely suspicious secretive church…

Enjoyable on many levels, then. I look forward to reading the next thriller from this author.

8/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

I’m Travelling Alone is published in July 2015 as a hardback and ebook

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