“It does seem like something was lost in translation” – The Crow Girl by Eric Axl Sund
As strange and multifaceted as the story in The Crow Girl is, there’s an almost as strange (but nowhere near as disturbing) story behind its life as a book so far. So we’ll start with that. Because it’s author, Erik Axul Sund, is not actually a single author at all. Instead, he’s the combination of two friends named Jerkur Erikson and Axlander Hakan Sunquist. Hakan is a sound engineer, musician, and artist and his buddie Jerkur was once a music producer who now works as a prison librarian. Strange enough for you yet? Well let’s add to that the facts that the rights for this book have already been sold in 38 territories, it’s already a bestseller across Europe, and the film rights were sold long before the tale had ever been translated into English. And then, perhaps crucially, there’s also the fact that this prize-winning Swedish crime phenomenon was originally a trilogy which has now been reworked into a single 750 page epic for the English language markets.
So there you go. Before you’ve even picked the book up, there’s already an extraordinary tale to absorb. And if that wasn’t enough, you only have to read a few pages before being greeted by the mummified body of a refugee child that went missing from the train station before anyone even knew he had arrived in Sweden. A startling opening that sets the tone perfectly. Because over the next 700 odd pages you’ll be facing up to crimes of the most disturbing nature. Child abuse, child porn, torture, cannibalism, and castration all feature very prominently in the narrative. Even the Nazi concentration camps make a few appearances. Yes, it’s fair to say that The Crow Girl is not a book for the faint hearted and I wouldn’t blame anyone who read the previous two sentences and decided that this was not the novel for them.
But I do think that would be a bit of a shame. Because for at least two thirds, this two person writing team manage to create an exciting and riveting work of fiction. It is both societally and psychologically aware and presents us with multi-layered and fascinating characters. It deals hugely in brutality, but it does so in a way that is interrogative, insightful, and thought-provoking. And it will make any reader shiver and cringe, but it might do so by making them think about the world around them in ways they aren’t used to. It’s a very successful analysis of today’s society that also works as a bloody entertaining crime novel. For those first two thirds I mentioned earlier, anyway.
Unfortunately, it takes a pretty huge dip in quality in the final third. Some characters completely disappear, others become less well rounded and intricate and more easily manipulated for the sake of an increasingly difficult to manage plot, and twists and turns that appear don’t fit with the earlier believability. Perhaps most disappointingly of all, an ending that long promised to be exciting and surprising actually peters out and ends up being forgettable. A real shame.
Any Cop?: How many of the final third’s issues are down to the restructured English version is hard to determine. It does seem like something was lost in translation, though. That said, there’s enough in the first two thirds to still make this a worthy read. You could also argue that most trilogies have one book that isn’t as good as the others, and that’s pretty much what happened here. But when those three books are put together in one, the contrast will be more noticeable. I’d suggest reading the first two and not the third, but that would be impossible. You’ll be hooked by that point. Just go in expecting a disappointing dénouement and you might end up a little less disappointed than I did.
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- April 7, 2016 / 9:00 am