Review: The Killing Forest

I took a bit of a hiatus from reading lately for a short road trip, but I’m back and just as excited about books as ever. The last novel I read was Sara Blaedel’s The Killing Forest, the second book published in English from a popular Danish crime series. I read the first book, The Forgotten Girls (click here for a complete review), earlier this year and was, if not exactly disappointed, not much impressed, either. But it did intrigue me, so I thought after a break I’d give this second book a try.

About the book: Louise and Eik are partnered up again as a new case brings them back to Louise’s childhood home of Hvalsø and unearths old secrets tangled up with Louise’s past. This one is much more personal for her because the current case of a missing fifteen year-old boy who has been living near a sacrificial site in the forest seems to be inextricably linked with several other cases, including Klaus’ death. Klaus was Louise’s great love twenty years ago, but now Eik is beside her as they search for answers and closure before the religion-turned-cult that rules the town can cover up the truth–again. The members of a secretive Asatro circle have formed a brotherhood based on silence and lawlessness, leaving death and terror in their wake that make it difficult for Louise and Eik to pin them down for any crimes. Not only are the crimes elusive, but the rouge Asatro band also conceals its members. What began as a recognized religion for worshipping nature has become an excuse for murder, prostitution, kidnapping, and unhindered revenge. When the gang declares war on Louise and her friend, Camilla, no one is safe, especially those on the inside.thekillingforest

” ‘You don’t kill somebody for leaving a group of friends,’ Louise said. Then Klaus came to mind. ‘This is no group of friends,’ he said. ‘I thought you of all people had that figured out. This is hell. No one gets out.’ “

The downfall: I still feel like I’m missing pieces of the story. Not necessarily key details, but information about relationships, and background facts. Part of this, like my response to the first book, is that the books of this series published in English are not the first books in the Danish series. English readers are coming into the game six books or so behind–think of all that characterization lost.

Another factor, I think, may be the translation. Something about the writing feels too matter-of-fact, too uninspired. It doesn’t feel like one of those works were the author slaves over every last sentence, though I doubt Blaedel was careless or rushed in choosing her words. Sometimes in literature a single word can convey everything you need to know about someone or something, and the difference between two synonyms is crucial to the reader’s interpretation of a scene. Perhaps there are nuances lost between the two languages that gave me the impression that parts of the story were a bit dry. See, the plot is woven so well, and in this book the reader is given answers to many of the questions that plagued me in The Forgotten Girls, so that it’s hard to believe Blaedel herself is the one leaving anything wanting about these novels. The story is presented competently, but not excitingly. It feels like a translation rather than an original work.

“For a moment everything stood still. Including her heart, Louise feared for a moment. But then her rage exploded from a place inside her she’d never felt before. Her fingertips turned cold, but the colors around her suddenly grew brighter, as if her senses were no longer deadened from anxiety.”

That said, I think the plot of The Killing Forest is much improved from The Forgotten Girls. There are more personal investments for the characters, and real uncertainty about whether more crimes will be committed before the culprits are caught–or even whether the police will be able to hold the suspects in custody at all. The double layer of present and past cases gave depth to the characters, showing change over time. Camilla and her new husband, Frederick, own the land on which the forest crucial to the story stands, and their proximity leads them to direct rather than peripheral involvement, making them more essential to the story than they seem in the first book. The story is much more exciting in this one, much darker, fulfilling my dashed hopes from the first book. I was a little reluctant to start this one, with my underwhelmed impression from the first book fresh in my mind, but The Killing Forest turned out to be a quick and immersive read.

My reaction: 4 out of 5 stars. I have hopes that with future books this series will prosper, but I was impressed by the level of improvement already from the last book to this one. You may be able to read The Killing Forest as a stand-alone novel, if this one seems more interesting to you than the first book. There are a few details carried over from The Forgotten Girls that would be missed, but Blaedel does a great job of filling in the blanks on past events in The Killing Forest, reminding readers of crucial details from The Forgotten Girls and even exploring farther back in the past than the last book allowed. The Forgotten Girls opens doors to a myriad of questions, and The Killing Forest answers them. If you’ve read the first book, even if you were not impressed, I would recommend continuing on with this one. If you haven’t read either, and crime fiction is your niche, you should pick up at least this second one. I will definitely be keeping an eye out for future books in this series, as well. And if you’ve already read and enjoyed this book…

Further recommendations:

  1. As intense crime fiction goes, James Patterson is the American master. If you like Louise, you’ll appreciate her American counterpart, Lindsay, of Patterson’s Women’s Murder Club series. The first fantastic book in this set is 1st to Die, and you won’t regret picking it up.
  2. Another great murder mystery writer is Robert Galbraith, aka J. K. Rowling. Galbraith’s Cormoran Strike series is set in London and features an enigmatic private detective and his persistent assistant, Robin, as horrid criminals hunt them down in the city. You can read my complete review of the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling, here.

Coming Up Next: I’m currently reading Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, a futuristic novel about video gaming that incorporates 1980’s culture. I’ve been putting this one off because I’m not much into video games and I wasn’t alive in the 1980’s, but neither of those factors has been a problem so far and I’m finding the story truly captivating. It even has footnotes, which I find fascinating in fiction. Check back soon for a complete review.

Sincerely,

The Literary Elephant

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