Book review: I’m Travelling Alone

SCANDINAVIA is cool, and not just in terms of climate. It is cool for crime. 

Samuel Bjork

Doubleday, €11.35

Cool for slick urban stories that have a reputation for complexity, good writing and good acting. 

The likes of Stieg Larson’s trilogy that began with The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or Henning Mankell’s ‘Wallander’ series have shifted vast numbers of copies. 

And the group of countries is also hot, in the sense of contemporary usage of that word; very popular. 

Look at the smash hit Borgen TV series or the sophisticated Dane Lars von Trier’s cult films.

And now there is a new kid on the block, singer/songwriter, playwright and novelist, Samuel Bjork. Is there anything of which this dextrous wordsmith is incapable of? Well, a novel for one. 

He’s been called the new Jo Nesbo. I would be very unhappy with the comparison were I Nesbo. I’m not Nesbo, and I’m still unhappy with it.

In plot, he is reasonable. In actual writing he is dire. Let’s start with the cliche. 

In innumerable crime novels and movies, Character A has retired and Character B tries to entice them back to the detective unit to catch serial killer/bank robber/rapist.

They usually take a lot of budging from their steadfast position.

Police investigator Holger Munch is able to persuade his ace detective Mia Kruger to return to the force with consummate ease. Anyway, back she comes to help track down a serial killer (another serial killer) who has been murdering six-year-old girls. 

This clever clogs (the serial killer) etches a clue into the fingernail of each murderee. Now where have we seen that trope before? Clue: The protagonist liked to eat human liver,washed down with chianti.

The first child is found hanging from a tree with a message ‘I’m travelling alone’ attached to her, alongside a satchel. The police discover a seamstress who made up the dress the child was found wearing. This is simply too easy. 

A hunt then ensues for a transvestite who may have ordered the dresses. Meanwhile, Munch has a growing suspicion that he is connected somehow to the crimes via an internet chat room, a sleazy church, and his mother’s care home.

The media, poor benighted fools, are then dragged into it, when one of their reporters takes a call at a news conference and is told to choose one of two kidnapped girls to save: the other will die. 

This Sophie’s Choice is declined and soon the two are added to the body count. Mia, super sleuth, is assembling evidence but the whole picture is tantalisingly out of her grasp.

Has it something to do with her deceased sister Sigrid and their childhood at Asgardstrand? The missing link is the church. 

It turns out the pastor has been conning elderly women out of their inheritance in return for salvation. However, one of the women is the mother of Munch.

A care assistant in the home in cahoots with the church was herself unable to have children and … drum roll, removal of disguise, was the sister of Mia’s sister who died from a drug overdose, hence the motive. Evil will out.

Many stilted pages of appalling dialogue later, Munch’s daughter and granddaughter are abducted. The denouement (no please, say it ain’t true) nears when the pastor’s assistant flips, kills him and the children escape the compound. Meanwhile, the baddie, sorry the serial killer, is still at large.

The final piece in this one-piece jigsaw, is a movie with GPS co-ordinates leading the goodies to the area where the abductees are held captive. All is neatly tied up.

Let’s invert a couple of the eulogies this book has received. “Not a textbook modern crime novel. This is how it shouldn’t be done’; Impossible to pick up”.


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