"Delightfully easy yet stimulating to read. I loved it."
Some novels written in foreign languages translate poorly into English. Others somehow benefit from the process, and I’m Travelling Alone is one of them. This high-octane, super-tense account of a race against time to nail a psychotic serial killer was written in Norwegian and something of the cool Nordic atmosphere rises off the pages like a frozen mist.
The opening of Samuel Bjork’s debut novel (which has been a best-selling smash in Scandinavia and has seen the TV rights snapped up here in the UK) is heart-stopping. A six year old girl is found dead, hanging from a tree in the woods. She has been dressed in weird doll’s clothes, and the only tangible clue is an airline tag hanging from her neck. ‘I’m Travelling Alone’.
The poor child won’t be the first. And so the race begins between the police double-act of veteran investigator Holger Munch and his deeply troubled, suicidal erstwhile partner Mia Kruger, and the killer. (More of Munch and Kruger here shortly, but trust me – this is one of those police partnerships that TV producers salivate over).
The author is not only a novelist; Samuel Bjork is an established playwright and singer-songwriter. So it’s no surprise that he writes with a crisp, swinging rhythm that not only translates well but has its own distinctive tone, especially in the dialogue between characters – short, snappy sentences; pithy exchanges. Delightfully easy yet stimulating to read. I loved it.
"I couldn’t stop turning the pages of this cold gallop of a story and I loved the working relationship between the two police protagonists."
When the child’s body is found hanging from a tree with that almost heart-breaking airline tag around her neck (travelling alone, indeed) Oslo police call in their most experienced investigator, veteran cop Holger Munch. But he quickly realises he’ll need backup in the form of his former partner, Mia Kruger.
The only problem is that Mia has done a Scandinavian duck-dive and retreated to a remote island where, disillusioned and depressed, she is planning to kill herself.
Munch gets to her in time and soon she is drawn into the complexities of the case. Reviewing the gruesome crime-scene photographs, Mia spots something everyone else has missed.
A thin, almost invisible line scratched into the girl’s fingernail. It is the figure ‘one’. This girl is the first.
Realising they are standing on the threshold of a serial killing spree, Mia throws herself into a race against time and soon discovers that six years earlier a baby was abducted from a nearby maternity unit and was never found. Meanwhile a weird, reclusive Christian sect is discovered to be hanging out in the woods. What do they know? What have they done? Who are they shielding?
And then Munch’s own six-year-old granddaughter vanishes. He and Mia realise that this whole case could be deeply personal and they are hunting a revenge-motivated killer: intelligent, manipulative, cunning and ruthless.
I couldn’t stop turning the pages of this cold gallop of a story and I loved the working relationship between the two police protagonists. The conclusion does not disappoint and I can’t wait to read Bjork’s next novel – just as long as it’s about Mia and Holger.
It’s a double act with a big future.