“Red herrings galore” – Red Snow by Will Dean

Dark Pines introduced us to Tuva Moodyson, an intrepid female journalist living in Gavrik, a fictional Swedish backwater. Red Snow is the sequel, set a few months after the climax of the previous book in which she helped to nail the person responsible for the Medusa killings (hunters taken out one by one in the woods). This time around…

“There’s a murderer in Gavrik, a man or a woman with a weapon and a motive and it could be anyone. Locals are staying indoors. They’re cancelling dates and they’re sleeping with loaded guns hidden beneath their beds.”

The novel opens with Gustav Grimberg, owner of the local salt liquorice factory throwing himself off the factory tower. “If it wasn’t for Grimberg Liquorice,” we learn, “there’d be no Gavrik…”  Many believe the Grimberg family to be cursed. “They’ve had more than enough tragic deaths over the years. Blighted, they are.” There have been mysterious disappearances, fires and falls. Only three women survive – the grandma, Cecilia, the mother (and widow of Gustav) Anna-Britta, and her teenage daughter, Rachel.

Meanwhile Tuva is working out her last fortnight. She’s leaving her job at the Posten for a better paid job down south in Skolne. She’s leaving her flat, her hire car and her friend Tammy behind, putting the sadness she carries with her about the death of her mum to bed and looking towards a new future. Until (didn’t you just know it?) there’s a murder – on factory grounds. And the corpse has a pair of circular liquorice disks on its eyes. Just as Gustav had in his pockets when he jumped. Are the deaths linked? David Homqvist, the creepy ghostwriter from Dark Pines is back, and he has a proposition for Tuva – help him write a history of the liquorice factory he thinks will make his name. It’ll be a little extra pocket money for her new life… And so Tuva gets to work, investigating the murder and the suicide, on hand as more possible crimes occur (did Cecilia fall down the stairs or was she pushed? did a fire break out because the liquorice roots are so damn dry or because of arson? are the dark birds of the past coming home to roost?), and doing her best to live a life that is gradually shutting down (leaving her flat, giving up her car, saying goodbye to her friend Tammy).

What did we think? Well, we read Dark Pines and Red Snow back to back and so we can say, if you liked Dark Pines, we think you will like this. It’s a slightly better book. That may be all you need to know. If you haven’t read Dark Pines but you’re aware it generated a fair few column inches, you should know that Will Dean doesn’t write what you would call standard Scandi crime fare. Some people would say they are slower paced than standard Scandi fare; others might say they are more character driven pieces – but saying they are ‘character driven’ might suggest they are driven by characters (plural) when in fact they are driven by a character: Tuva Moodyson. Tuva is the best recommendation for Dark Pines and Red Snow: she’s a gay woman with a disability and Dean writes about her with sturdy, no-nonsense ease. By which we mean to say, Tuva deals with her disability the way a person would who has dealt with it all her life (changing the batteries of her hearing aids when they run out, bridling whenever anyone is sympathetic towards her). Her sexuality comes more to the fore in Red Snow than it did in Dark Pines and a date that takes place between her and a new police woman called Noora is far and away the best bit of the book. Dean handles it really well.

We do have two problems with the book, though. 1 is the pace, which we referred to above. This is a crime novel. When all is said and done. And it’s just too damn slow. You can quite literally read 350 pages of this book and be no closer to discovering who did what than you were at the book’s opening. We know that Dean is trying to play with form and to be create a strong foundation for a long-running series of books but still. Our advice would be for Dean to read all of CJ Box’s Joe Pickett novels. CJ Box is doing exactly what Dean should be doing. Strong, individual books centring on a sympathetic character, each of which contain enough in the way of seeds for future books to grow organically out of them. Dean is good on seeds but neither Dark Pines or Red Snow is as good as Open Season or Savage Run (the first two Joe Pickett books, in a series that reaches its 21st entry later this year). 2 is the climax. If you’ve ever watched a Police Academy film (which tend to run sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, sketch, hurried tacked on resolution), you’ll know what to expect here. There are red herrings galore and then, in the last 30 pages of the book, a resolution that comes from nowhere. The end of Red Snow is not a surprise and neither is it the result of an investigation. There is no: this and then this and then this. Instead there is a lot of “could it be this?”, “could it be this?”, “could it be this?” – and then there is: random reveal with mild peril. The climax of Red Snow is defiantly meh and if you read Red Snow and disagree with us, we recommend you read more books (start with those two CJ Box books, you can thank us later).

Which isn’t to say we disliked the book. And isn’t to say that we think Will Dean doesn’t show promise. The scene between Tuva and Noora in McDonalds was genuinely captivating. Good writing and good character development. We just think he needs to make his pacing work a lot harder. Again: we would recommend Dean reads Box. You can have character development, in asides, often for paragraphs at a time, but you can’t have chapters of character development. You certainly can’t have sequential chapters of character development. Not without forsaking crime altogether (which would mean not resolving mysteries, which would mean leaving murders and murderers for someone else to pursue). Ah you might say, this is literary crime. To which we would respond: no it isn’t. Both Dark Pines and Red Snow can be silly. Both books can be cartoonish. And both books are, at times, badly written. You want to read literary crime, try Rebecca or The Talented Mr Ripley. Dark Pines and Red Snow ain’t it.

Any Cop?: As we said: if you liked Dark Pines, you’ll like this. If you’re still in the business of giving Dean rope, there’s reason enough to give him more. If you’re a crime aficionado with little time for someone learning their game, come back in a couple of books’ time and see how he’s getting on.

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