Samira is dead. She died last night. But now she is looking down over the roofs of Marseille. She remembers how he strangled her, how he bashed in her skull with an ashtray. How he cut off her head and buried her body in six different places. She hopes someone will find her…some day.Olivia Ronning is still struggling to come to terms with her brutal entry into the world. Cut from the womb of her murdered mother, with only seconds to spare, she is left with haunting dreams, brutal feelings and guilt. When Olivia’s friend Sandra Sahlmann discovers her father’s body hanging in the hall of their house, the police initially assume suicide. But something doesn’t sit right. Having veered away from her budding career as a police office, Olivia knows she should leave this alone – but she is just too close to this case, it’s personal now. Bengt Sahlmann’s suicide/murder lands on Mette Olsater’s desk. Tom Stilton is dragged into Samira’s murder, following a personal request from Abbas. And Olivia for her part can’t let Sandra’s questions go unanswered. The three investigations seem bound to cross paths. Will they all be able to put their former disagreements and personal demons aside and work together to solve their cases – and prevent further people from dying?
Counting myself very lucky that as a bookseller and reviewer I have a never-ending source of books, sometimes the teetering to-be-read pile works against me. Consequently, this is a book that got lost in the mix, but saints be praised that I prised it out after a lengthy hiatus in the books to-be-read mountain! With their previous book Spring Tide having made such an impression on me, and being one of my Top 5 books of last year, Third Voice is the second in the series to feature the terrier-like Olivia Ronning, ex-detective and former street dweller, Tom Stilton and police detective Mette Olsater, With the events of the previous book having caused such rifts in their relationships, Third Voice rejoins them with their lives having taken different turns…
After the thrilling perfection of Spring Tide, the Borjlinds once again draw on their screenwriting credentials (Arne Dahl’s Intercrime, Beck, Wallender) to produce a flawless addition in the shape of Third Voice. Exhibiting their writing versatility with the dual locations of Stockholm and Marseilles, they weave a tale of murder, uprooted loyalties, and sadness that kept me in its thrall from the prologue onwards.
Drawing on pretty much every single one of the seven deadly sins, evinced through the actions of our heroic protagonists and those that would harm them, this book is redolent with the themes and emotions of human experience. Friendship and loyalties torn apart make for a difficult journey for our young protagonist, Olivia, who once again finds herself embroiled in murder, as an alleged suicide case proves to be anything but, putting her in considerable danger. Ex-detective Tom Stilton, a man whose still waters run very deep indeed, proves his constancy when called upon by his friend Abbas to investigate the brutal murder of his one true love. Feisty and experienced detective Mette Olaster, struggling with her health proves a pivotal force in linking the investigations, and mending some broken bridges. Every single one of these characters are mesmerising, being so fully-formed and displaying such different and mercurial aspects of their characters. They are all imbued with a strong sense of morality, and the initial rifts between them are a source of great emotional soul searching. In fact, I would go far as to say that the construction of their individual identities are more akin to the style of characterisation you see more in literary fiction, as the highs and lows of their unique emotional make up contains pathos, tragedy, resilience and where appropriate moments of dark humour. I love these characters, and more importantly as a reader, I care about them.
With reference again to the Borjlinds screenwriting career, their control of narrative pace and plot reveals is absolutely superb. This is a dark and twisted tale with some very unsavoury aspects indeed, but utterly compelling. Their balance between shining a spotlight on one character’s stream of consciousness (for example the stunning revelations of Abbas’ formative years) is balanced perfectly with sequences of jaw dropping tension, suffused with danger and urgency. The little vignettes of character interactions, are offset by not only the perilous investigations, but by the authors’ finely attuned commentary on the societies these individual function in, with the seedy underbelly of the sex industry suddenly counterbalanced with corruption in the business world. Naturally, with the previous lives of both Stilton and Abbas, and Olivia’s involvement in the shady goings-on in the care industry, another tableau of incisive social comment arises on homelessness, drugs and substandard care of the elderly. When the story moves from Stockholm to Marseilles, the continuity and pinpoint descriptions of the locations concerned never wavers, and both appear totally authentic, containing their own air of menace and deprivation.
Quite simply, this will be one of the most perfect Scandinavian thrillers you could wish to pick up this year. All the elements of the genre we admire, combined with the unique visual quality, seamless dialogue, and narrative edge that the Borjlinds can provide with their television scripting. The characters are believable, fallible, and multi-faceted, and will draw you in from the outset. If you’ve not read Spring Tide, don’t worry as you will learn everything you need to know quickly and simply with some flawless back story. However, I would urge you to seek both of them out. Brilliant.
(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)