This book starts with the murder of Halland, who is gunned down yards from his home. The police turn up to arrest his wife Bess, as it appears with his dying words he had accused her of the crime. If you, like myself, are going “Ok, another Nordic crime thriller”, check out the publisher’s name. Yep Peirene Press, and past experience has taught me that this won’t follow the usual genre rules, that at the very least there will be an interesting twist and I’m pleased to say they haven’t yet let me down.
Although there’s a murder, a gun and a dour seeming inspector, this book focuses on Bess and how the bereavement acts as a catalyst causing her to reassess her friends, family and ultimately her life. We follow Bess as she careens from pillar to post, sometimes drunk, sometimes bemused, whilst attempting to understand, to come to terms with Halland’s death and all that has come to light because of it.
Last year I read a book by Shuichi Yoshida and this reminds me of that, although both tales differ considerably, in both there’s a murder at it’s centre, a black hole around which everything turns and yet it is the effect of this crime on the individual that becomes the focus of the story, the crime is merely the matrix that allows this focus. As with the other book The murder of Halland is the type of thriller that gives the genre a great name, it’s intelligent, thought provoking, it asks questions, whilst doing so in a manner that doesn’t give you a list of pat, generic answers, leaving you to ponder any answers for yourself.
Why Peirene chose to publish this book:
“If you like crime you won’t be disappointed. The book has all the right ingredients. A murder, a gun, an inspector, suspense. But I love the story because it strays far beyond the whodunit norm. In beautifully stark language Pia Juul manages to chart the phases of bereavement.” Meike Ziervogel
Pia Juul, born 1962, claims her place as one of Denmark’s foremost literary authors. She has published five books of poetry, two short story collections and two novels. The Murder of Halland was published in Danish in 2009 and has won Denmark’s most important literary prize, Den Danske Banks litteraturpris. Pia is the translator of Ali Smith and Alain de Botton into Danish.
Pia Juul (Wiki)
Martin Aitken (Translator) holds a PhD in Linguistics and gave up university tenure to listen to The Fall and translate literature. His work has appeared in book form and in literary journals. He lives in rural Denmark.
Martin on The Murder of Halland:
“What I find striking about Pia Juul’s novel is its intense exploration of a human mind at the mercy of emotion. In modern society we tend to pride ourselves on our propensity to analyse and acquire new knowledge and insight. Yet Juul’s gripping portrayal of a woman striving to find a place in her own life reveals so clearly that human emotion is by no means wholly amenable to rational dissection and understanding. We learn to live for better or worse with the choices we make in our lives, often uncomprehending of how we ever got there. Bess reminds us that life is not a roadmap to rational insight, but a complex of entangled emotion.”
Peirene Catalogue (Contemporary European Literature)