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English teacher interested in language and culture, and also in fiction using magic, myth, folklore and the supernatural. Now teaching part-time in a Leicester Upper School (ages 14-19) and also writing for children, teens and teachers.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Review: Death Sentence by Mikkkel Birkegaard

For Thrilling Thursday, a violent novel that refused to let me stop reading, despite my revulsion at its extremes.

Title: Death Sentence
Author: Mikkel Birkegaard
Publisher: Transworld (Black Swan)
Published: 2011 (English translation)
Genre: Crime thriller
Acquired: Sent for review (Transworld Book Group)

Find it at Amazon UK

The blurb says...
A murder committed on paper, safely within the confines of a novel, is one thing. To see that same crime in the real world, is something else entirely. . .

Frank F√łns is a successful crime writer. His novels, famed for their visceral descriptions of violent death, have made him a household name. But now someone is copying his crimes. For Frank what once seemed a clever, intriguing plot twist, has suddenly become a terrifying, blood-spattered reality.

Frank unwittingly swaps his role of writer for detective. He must find out who is using his fiction to destroy his life, and why. What had once been a game is now a matter of life and death.

In fiction, the bad guy always gets caught, but in real life there is no such guarantee. And as Frank knows, no one is promising him a happy ending...

My verdict: the grisliest book I've read, yet terribly compelling.
It's hard to offer my feelings about this book without plot spoilers, so forgive me if this is vague in places (I'd sooner that than give away the plot).

The premise of this book is intriguing, and the writing is excellent, if a little detached in tone. This is somewhat unusual for a first-person narrator but it reflects the rather disconnected narrator effectively. The novel begins with the excellent opening line "Until recently I had only killed people on paper" and Frank continues to explain how this manuscript will be different to all his others, in dealing only with realities. The tension is managed and paced by interspersing the narration of current and murderous events with part of Frank's life story, particularly relating to his relationships.

I thought for quite a large part of the book that the excessive depiction of violence was a theme of the novel (since Frank explains some of his more grotesquely planned murders but without actual description, and discusses other characters' reactions to his work), but the closing sequence made me question this idea. This sequence is the most disturbing and graphic depiction of violence I have read and I didn't want to read it, but desperately wanted to get to the end to find out who was behind the murders. I enjoy crime fiction and am not normally squeamish, but the narration and graphic detail in this section was much more, er, 'colourful' than the rest of the novel. I had read other reviews saying that this was a violent and shocking book and was merrily disagreeing with them until this part of the story. It's told differently to the rest and has much more description and much more immediacy. I was compelled to read on and get through it, but I was breathing in sharply, covering my mouth and generally twisting myself up in tension right through it. And I have to say I'm not entirely glad I did, as I didn't find the ending very satisfying and unfortunate details of the book's violent climax keep revisiting me.

Overall, I'd say that it is done skilfully, and it certainly has a strong effect on the reader, but it wasn't my most enjoyable read this year.

Thanks to Transworld for sending me this as part of their Transworld Book Group promotion.

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