When animals appear in a book’s title they are frequently more metaphorical than physical, but these menacing black beasts play an important part of the story in this character-driven slow-burn Swedish mystery. These ravens are pets – of a kind – kept by the father of police detective Kjeld Nygaard. Their apparently aggressive inclinations, savagely sharp talons and brutal beaks quite literally scarred young Kjeld for life. His return to the family farmstead as a troubled adult in a difficult situation is shaded by everything the ravens represent – and by their gradual neglect and decline with the passage of time.
Although it’s billed as the first in the series, Kjeld already has a substantial and controversial back story. The author avoids acres of exposition but instead gradually reveals the complex conflicts which both motivate and undermine this intriguing character. The story is set in an isolated community in the far-flung reaches of northern Sweden, close to the borders with Norway and Finland and a far cry from Kjeld’s chosen home of cosmopolitan Göteborg in the ‘civilised south’. It’s the perfect scenario for small-town claustrophobia and bitter life-long rivalry.
The subject of an aging relative suffering from cognitive decline has become a staple of much crime fiction in recent years – undoubtedly reflecting a reality which many readers experience. Here, the uncertainty about Kjeld’s father’s state of mind is adroitly employed (but not exploited) to muddy already mysterious waters. Can you believe a confused old man when he says he’s witnessed a murder? And if you then find a body… can you believe that the old man is entirely innocent of any involvement in the crime?
Ravens is not without episodes of intense peril and devious misdirection although the plot sometimes takes its own sweet time to get to an obvious conclusion. It’s typical of its genre in focusing on the shameful secrets of previous generations, the sins of the father that warp the psyche of their offspring. This is a multi-generational mystery, one which drags corporate corruption and shameful family secrets out of the shadows and into the icy light of understanding. The perfect mystery for a chilly winter.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Where Ravens Roost by Karin Nordin is available at Amazon
The KILLING SISTERS trilogy…
…highly recommended for fans of Scandi crime and Nordic noir