Review: Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkegaard

I won this novel on Mel’s Random Reviews blog, written by awesome Mel who didn’t hestiate to send a huge parcel full of books abroad -thank you once again, you rock!

Book info:
Form: paperback
Genre: crime fiction, horror, mystery with Scandinavian flavour
Target audience: adults

Synopsis (from Goodreads):

A murder commited on paper, safely within the confines of a novel, is one thing. To see that sane crime in the real world, is something else entirely…

Frank Føns 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 impressions:

The central character, Frank Føns, is a Danish writer of violent crime novels – in fact very explicit torture scenes, full of bloodshed and gore, are his brand name mark. Frank’s first person narration (allegedly we are reading his autobiography of sorts) was quite compelling – it was an unusual plot device,  a crime novel author telling us about his life, career, inspirations and books while trying to solve a ‘real’ crime mystery and to put his life in order, feeling that somehow he is losing his grasp more and more. You see, when Frank thinks he more or less has found the balance anew somebody starts to murder people around him, copying exactly the methods described so accurately in his novels. First these are highly unpleasant individuals who die, like a corrupted cop with penchant for paedophilia, but then the mysterious murderer endangers the life of one of Frank’s daughters and the whole problem takes a new, far more sinister meaning. Frank decides the only way to put a stop to what he feels he started is to become a detective himself and try to catch the killer — a solitary and dismal task at best.

The parts I enjoyed the most? There were the chapters in which the author asks whether or not writers need to take some kind of responsibility for the work they produce. For example, there is a scene in which Frank reluctantly tells his publisher about the death in the marina mimicking a scene in his latest, not even published book, In the Red Zone. The publisher’s response was to see if the investigation could be held back from the press so that the release of the story would coincide with the book launch, since the news would act as publicity and boost sales. It makes Frank feel guilty – the dead woman used to be his lover after all. Finally, there is the question of whether or not it is possible for others to keep an author’s personal identity separate from his or her fictional creations.

What’s more…the writing is easy to slip into –anyway the translation from the Danish seemed flawless to me. The ending was a bit frustrating but I enjoyed the ambiguity and the unsolved mystery of it. Overall it was a  well-crafted novel – difficult to put down and original. Of course it could have been better. 🙂 What went wrong?

My first rather negative remark and a warning: if you are in any way squeamish, do not open this book. Some description of tortures Frank quotes from his own novels sounded pretty gruesome and the last part included a passage really difficult to swallow which seemed to me a bit unnecessary to boot, as if the author simply wanted to prove that he could.Then I found the lackadaisical approach of the Danish police rather unbelievable. Also the fact that Frank was so unwilling to approach any police officer and present his doubts was a bit far-fetched (but I grant it, fully understandable from the main protagonist’s POV if you assume he was metally ill). Finally let me say that I would enjoy this book far more if it included a more believable psychological profile of the main character. It’s true, the author unravels what is in Frank’s head that causes him to write the books he does, as well as the effect his writing has on those around him. Yet, after Frank’s tragic family story is revealed and he spirals down into his personal decline, fueled by alcohol and drugs, I had a feeling that he is a guy who never really gets it, at least not until it is too late and I found it puzzling a bit. Because he was supposed to be such a clever, imaginative, intelligent cookie.
Final verdict:

Death Sentence is a book that moves around on the spectrum between crime and horror, but is ultimately closer to horror. The resolution is unlikely to satisfy a pure mystery fans, but there is plenty to enjoy along the way. I found the fragments dealing with Frank’s career and writing process the best. Overall I liked it better than Stieg Larsson’s trilogy and I would put it on the same level as Jo Nesbo and Camilla Lackberg. Would I read another book by the author? Yes, I think I would.

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6 Responses to Review: Death Sentence by Mikkel Birkegaard

  1. I wonder if something like this has ever happened in IRL.

  2. Blodeuedd says:

    Not big on crime fiction, but I'd read it on Danish if I found it 🙂

  3. Maybe. I've heard of a murderer writing a 'fictional' book about his 'achievements'. He was caught and put into prison.

  4. Aurian says:

    I am glad you liked the book Ana, but no, not a book for me. I like my mysteries cozy 😉

  5. Then stay away from this one – cozy it is not. And nice to see you here again!

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