More Bitter Than Death

This is the second in the sequence of Siri Bergman narrated novels. So I am unable to tell if in not having read the first I am denied something that might be needed in order to squeeze the most out of More Bitter Than Death, the second. As it stands it seems to have an autonomy of its own.

More Bitter Than DeathUnlike The Bat, the previous Scandi Crime fiction novel that I read, I initially got into this from the first page. It then went flat and I struggled with it. As far in as page 250 one of the characters made the exasperated comment, ‘get to the point would you’. I shared the sentiment as it reverberated round my skull, at too many points in this book saying to myself the same thing. It does take off again towards the end sufficiently to prevent me turning my nose up at future work by these authors. And there is a concluding twist to make the reader sit up.  Not as jolting as that from Michael Slade’s great Headhunter, but close enough to give rise to a WTF moment.

One of the reasons for the book sagging in the middle was because the parallel lives that featured did not always integrate well, leaving the abrasive joints awkwardly exposed. Nor did the lives seem entirely germane to the story in anything but a wooden sort of way, creating the feeling that they distracted more than they focussed.

There is a temptation at first to think that the reader best suited for this type of book is a woman who might understand the issues it explores better than a man. It is very much a woman centred tale anchored in domestic abuse that women experience at the hands of men. The violence is at times brutally intense and I noted that this is one of the complaints about the book from its female readers. So initial feelings of who it might suit quickly dissipate.

Siri Bergman, a psychotherapist, helps run a women’s therapy centre in Stockholm. Theirs is a counselling group that tries to help women who have experienced abuse in their lives. Abuse and misogyny is a theme that greatly shaped the work of Stieg Larsson but the symmetry that Larsson achieved is absent here.

As well as tackling the problems women face while it is in session the centre functions as a temporary refuge where the women can express themselves. Yet the violence actually arrives in their midst like a train wreck that hurtled through the red light oblivious of the consequences.

Siri has problems with Marcus, her boyfriend.  Her earlier partner Stefan died and in some ways she tries to use Markus to fill the void, wanting part of him but no more. She preferred that the two lived apart much to his displeasure, a trait perhaps borrowed from the character Saga in The Bridge. Marcus was a cop and Sira viewed him as being into cop things, nothing too cerebral. Central characters in Scandinavian crime literature tend to have complicated domestic home relationships. 

The counsellors themselves are not without rancour in their dealings with each other. Sira suspects Aina is jealous. Sven’s wife has left him not because he chases skirt which he did frequently but because he chases pints. 

The violent scene in the opening pages which spawns the investigation is sickening and it is amplified by the almost detached response of the sole witness, a child, who returns to doing what she was doing prior to the killing. The reader pauses to ponder if it is a normal response form a five year old blocking out what is painful or something suggesting a serious dysfunction.The police investigation is not a key feature of the novel, which focuses more on the work of the psychotherapist than the detective. Yet, any defence of this book on the grounds that it delves into the psychology of motivation is tenuous if the work is judged against something like David Lindsay’s Mercy.

Despite my misgivings some mercy is in order and judgement will be suspended until more work from the pen of this duo is read. 

Camilla Grebe and Asa Traff, 2013. More Bitter Than Death. Simon & Schuster: London.  ISBN 978-0-85720-949-8

No comments