Like the very best Nordic noir, Red Snow conveys an eerie sense of place, of the suffocating claustrophobia endured by the inhabitants of a small Swedish town in frozen February. And like the very best crime fiction, the story in Red Snow centres on a remarkable protagonist, a touchstone for her time.
Tuva Moodyson is a recently bereaved, independent, professional and intelligent young woman. She’s also isolated, deaf – reliant on her all-too fallible hearing aids for ‘normal’ contact with the world around her – and bisexual.
With all those characteristics, you might expect Tuva to be a royal pain in the ass, a postergirl for the #MeToo generation. But the only snowflakes in sight are the ones piled deep into six-foot snowdrifts. Tuva’s written in exemplary fashion, so she feels just like – well, fancy that – a normal person. Which of course, she is.
The events of Red Snow are less than ordinary, however. It’s the second Tuva story, although you don’t need to have read the first one to enjoy this. If Dark Pines was a fairly standard, ‘serial killer stalks isolated community’ set-up, then Red Snow is more of a sociological snapshot, a chilling picture of industrial decline. This remote settlement relies on a couple of long-standing family firms to provide hundreds of jobs for local workers.
And there’s something seriously amiss at the liquorice factory – made all too obvious when the owner apparently commits a very public suicide. His shocking fall – from a factory chimney stacks – starts other dominos tumbling. The stress of his death fractures the already struggling family survivors. Accidents happen… which might not be so accidental. Only Tuva, researching a book and her newspaper reports, has all the access to the right people to pull the pieces of this puzzle together. But she doesn’t realise that she’s working to a very literal deadline…
Author Will Dean writes with the fluidity of a natural English speaker so the text is more readily accessible than most Scandi crime, which typically needs a skilful translator to capture its elegance. He also intertwines explanations for cultural curiosities with seamless skill into the narrative, pausing to provide background detail that a Swedish author writing for a home audience might understandably omit.
The result is the best of both worlds. Red Snow has the pace and panache of a mainstream thriller combined with the stark sensibilities of Scandinavian crime fiction – and that genre’s particular ability to explore ambiguous moral enigmas without passing judgement. Nor does the story suffer for the sake of the ethical dilemma: both elements get equal airtime and both are integral to Red Snow’s success.
Read this on a winter’s day, curled up by a roaring fire. Imagine life in a small Swedish town. 20 degrees below and dark for most of the day. A long slog against the cold, the snow, the ice – and the sinister side of damaged humans. Don’t be surprised if you start shivering…
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Red Snow by Will Dean is available at Amazon
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