Title: Victim Without a Face*
Author: Stefan Ahnhem
Genre: Fiction, crime, thriller, Nordic Noir
Where I got the book: This book was gifted to me and I’m reviewing this on my own initiative.
My rating: ★★☆☆☆
Summary: Criminal investigator Fabian Risk has left Stockholm in order to start fresh in his hometown of Helsingborg. It doesn’t take long before he is asked to help investigate the brutal murder of Jörgen Pålsson, one of Risk’s former classmates. Soon however, more mutilated bodies of his old classmates are found and the killer must be caught before the entire class is murdered – and before Risk himself becomes a victim.
* I read the Norwegian translation of this book under the title “Offer Uten Ansikt”.
This is the first time I write a review on this blog where I’m not including a quote at the beginning. I usually always find something quotable in a book – even when I read a book in another language I can find a translated quote, granted an English translation exists. For this one, though? Nothing. And it’s not because the writing is necessarily terrible, it’s just that there was absolutely nothing that stood out. I couldn’t find even one memorable sentence in a 600-page book and I don’t know how to feel about that.
“Victim Without a Face” had so much potential in its idea and storyline and I’m so disappointed in the fact that this potential could have been realized if it only had been executed better. This story is basically filled with all the Nordic Noir/crime/thriller tropes you can think of but nothing is actually done with them. They’re not utilized, just included, and there’s a big difference between the two. The result is you get a 600+ page brick of a book that could have been ended 200 pages earlier. Instead it’s dragged out because the author wanted to include ALL of the twists and turns.
So, if I can just talk about the protagonist of the story. Our hero is police investigator Fabian Risk and honestly, I just CANNOT deal with this name. His name is Risk. It’s so damn contrived and comical and it puts a bunch of expectations on this poor character’s shoulders. With a name like that I’d naturally except his personality to fit accordingly. Well, too bad Fabian Risk is almost entirely void of any personality whatsoever. Sure, he takes some risks (ughhh, he’s a walking pun), meaning he’ll go against orders and wander off on his own sometimes. Apart from these independent “hero acts” he’s incredibly naïve – at one point he goes into complete idiot-mode and puts a potential witness in serious danger, and I don’t want to spoil anything but this part just baffled me because he saw nothing wrong with it. This man who works in the police somehow deemed the situation perfectly safe when it was just so staggeringly STUPID. Sadly, you can’t rely on any of the other characters when it comes to interesting personalities. The rest of the team are more or less cardboard cutouts and the suspect/killer is ultimately nothing original in his bitter, delusional, sadistic ways.
The writing is generally fine but I’m not too keen on the dialogue. It’s very awkward and stilted and I feel I can’t blame this on the translation because Norwegian and Swedish are fairly similar languages. Also, the Swedish police starts working with the Danish police at one point, which sometimes results in a mix of languages, meaning some Danish dialogue is simply left untranslated. I assume this doesn’t apply to the English translation, but my issue with this is that while it might add something to the realism of it all, there’s really no point to it. It’s not that I don’t like or understand Danish, it’s just that it all reads very inconsistently this way.
I’ve also never seen this much namedropping in a book before. There are references to popular culture everywhere. And I really do love a good reference in a book, don’t get me wrong, but not all the time and certainly not when it doesn’t make the character any more relatable. It seems so cheap because I feel it’s an attempt to give the character some depth, but it’s really just a shortcut. I also don’t see the point in quoting song lyrics – and this is done a lot. For example, when Risk’s favorite song comes on the radio it’s not necessary to quote it, especially when the lyrics don’t contribute to anything. Or when Risk’s teenage son is listening to metal it’s not necessary to quote the Marilyn Manson song he’s listening to in between the dialogue. This is just done in such excess throughout the book that I found myself rolling my eyes every time.
And, okay – I admit I lied when I said I couldn’t find a quote. There’s one conversation taking place about a potential new lead and one of the female investigators asks one of the male lab techs what “Warhammer” is. The lab tech replies something along the lines of “It’s the nerdgame to end all nerdgames, but you’ve got breasts and no penis so you wouldn’t understand.” Like, seriously…? Am I reading this in 2017? Am I really? Well, cue me staring into the camera like I’m on “The Office”.
I have ranted this much. However, it’s not all bad. The suspense really is tense at times, the murders are as grotesque and twisted as can possibly be, and during more fast-paced scenes you do see a glimmer of the kind of writing I’m personally looking for in a thriller. I have to admit it’s not a brilliantly original plot, nor are the killer’s motives, but most points actually connect rather well in the big picture. I’ll give the story credit for not losing sight of its characters and for making sure that it all ties together in the end, even though the plot sometimes feels a bit over-explained. It might not be a page-turner for the reasons I wanted, but it is still a page-turner. Overall though, “Victim Without a Face” is a crime thriller that sadly fell short on execution and wasted its potential. Together with all the annoying things mentioned above, this was mostly a disappointing read.