It’s a total cliché that the sequel to an astonishing debut is often disappointing. Author Will Dean deftly sidestepped that situation with his Tuva Moodyson series; the second book (Red Snow) was every bit as good as the first (Dark Pines). But this third venture into the depth of the northern Swedish forest doesn’t quite live up to my (possibly unreasonably high) expectations. But that’s not to say this is a bad book, far from it.
The writing is as excellent as ever and the scenario initially engaging. Tuva, a profoundly deaf journalist, is drawn back to the isolated small town she’s trying to escape when her BFF goes mysteriously missing. Soon another young woman disappears and the over-stretched local police force is tugged in too many directions. Tuva is a natural investigator and she’s more than motivated to follow her suspicions into dangerous territory. She’s convinced that something horrific is happening to her friend – possibly amid the swampsnakes and trailer trash.
The previous books took place in the bitter Scandinavian winter, but this story is set in a sweltering summer with mosquitos, wasps and angry elk infesting the overgrown forest. The narrative is full of traps and creeping things, both physical and metaphorical. Tuva stays in a tiny guest lodge, comfortable, but eerily similar to a prison cell, and haunted by a small bird which batters itself bloodily senseless against the window.
Meanwhile the bugs and wick things bite, sting, slither and flitter in every scene. Will Dean is extremely adept at making commonplace, ordinary objects and situations extremely sinister. He ratchets up the anxiety to nerve-shredding levels… then leaves the reader in a soggy puddle of terrified tension when the next chapter reveals an entirely innocuous explanation.
This makes the actual violence – real, imagined or implied – all the more shocking when it finally happens. Dean is also excellent at demonstrating the ever-present, unspoken sensations that many women experience; the sound of footfalls behind you on a sidestreet, the isolation of walking home after dark. Few men experience what is for many females an everyday occurrence. It’s refreshing to see a male author acknowledging what can be a difficult aspect of ‘normal life’ for independent women.
Tuva’s unique characteristic, her profound deafness, is also acknowledged in Black River but it’s given less emphasis this time than in before. It’s a part of her character but not the defining aspect of her personality. Again, it’s handled with considerable care; explained, understood and accepted. If only all of life’s interactions could be so well-managed. Similarly, Tuva’s ongoing struggle with her own identity, her relationships with her friends and lovers, are quietly and respectfully drawn, as is her increasingly unhealthy relationship with alcohol.
If all these aspects of Black River are so excellent, then why didn’t I enjoy it so much? I suspect the storytelling was weighted too much towards people and place; there were definitely moments where the narrative slowed to the point of stalling. The environment was perhaps too familiar – it’s tricky with a series to maintain the established scenarios without actually repeating yourself. I certainly experienced some déjà vu when Tuva fell for the same old sucker punch again. Nor did I find the finale particularly satisfying; it stretched credibility a tiny bit too far.
Like I say, this is far from being a bad book and it’s definitely one which Tuva’s established fans will enjoy. But if you’re new to the series then this wouldn’t be the best place to start. Go back to Dark Pines for a truly extraordinary experience.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Black River by Will Dean is available at Amazon
Looking for Scandi-style thrills?Find the KILLING SISTERS trilogy at Amazon