Victim Without A Face: making a commercial killing

victimThis notionally Nordic noir / Scandi crime novel will go down a storm with the mainstream thriller audience. The blurb compares it to ‘Henning Mankell at his best’… which is total baloney. Mankell wrote carefully considered police procedurals which use credible criminal investigations to explore sombre truths about conflicts in modern liberal societies. Fabian Risk has naff-all in common with Wallander, apart from living in the same country.
Even there, ‘Victim’ fails to evoke the tranquil attraction and oppressive isolation of rural Sweden. The country, culture and characters all play second fiddle to the plot, which is a flat-out spree-killer splatter-fest from beginning to end. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that (says the person who deeply misses a weekly dose of Hannibal), if only it were executed with more accomplishment and less ludicrous contrivance.

As it is, ‘Victim’ mixes the absolute outlandish with just about every half-baked crime cliché in the book. The central character, brusque police investigator Fabian Risk, is all but estranged from his family (yawn), yet continues to prioritise the job over every personal relationship. He betrays the trust of his wife and his workmates, never follows correct procedures, infringes every rule and regulation. Just another self-obsessed maverick cop, then. Meanwhile, his opposite number in the Danish police is a female detective who has to endure the stereotypical misogynist boss who not only belittles her work but sexually assaults her. Really?

Cue endless instances of police officers bending/breaking the rules in order to get the job done while other investigators ineffectually flub around; the protagonist placed in personal jeopardy in the sights of the über-proficient, evil, scheming killer. The author has thrown every element of a successful thriller into the mix: leaks to the press, threats to the family, and a massive body count employing increasingly unlikely – if ingenious – methods of killing. If this were set in the USA then it might be faintly credible. With this many dead bodies in Europe, they’d have called out the National Guard and declared a state of emergency. ‘Victim’ has more in common with an early Lucas Davenport ‘Prey’ thriller than, say, Jo Nesbo – and even then, John Sandford’s delivery is so much more skillful.

For the writing itself is nondescript. Flat, functional and effective, but far from stylish, engaging or awe-inspiring. If this is the future of Nordic noir, now that the genre has been accepted into the mainstream, then I’d probably prefer it went back to lurking in the shadows. But if you enjoy convoluted plot conniptions and gruesome multiple murders, then ‘Victim’ offers plenty of entertainment in that vein.

5/10

Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

Victim Without A Face by Stefan Ahnhem is available as an ebook or paperback

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