The Owl Always Hunts at Night

Samuel Bjork, The Owl Always Hunts at NightWritten by Samuel Bjork, translated by Charlotte Barslund — Bjork is yet another name to add to the pantheon of Nordic Noir authors. This is his second solidly written police procedural featuring Oslo detectives Holger Munch and Mia Krüger, following on from I’m Travelling Alone. Here, their working relationship continues, even as they themselves are at risk of breaking apart.

Munch, overweight and troubled by his failed marriage, leads a team of detectives investigating the ritualistic murder of a teenage girl. Her naked body was found posed on a bed of owl feathers in a pentagram formed by the candles that surround her. The pathologist’s report reveals she was strangled, highlights the grazing to her knees and elbows and blisters on her hands, and her emaciated condition.

This case is just too weird, and Munch reaches out to Krüger, on leave for mental health reasons. Short on emotional reserves and long on intuition, Krüger is considered a genius at penetrating the murky depths of a case. Although she is battling alcohol and pills along with an overwhelming desire to follow her parents and twin sister to the grave, she agrees to help. Mia Moonbeam, as she’s nicknamed, has a dreamy quality to her thinking, that sharpens to a point whenever she focuses on a detail of the case.

Munch’s involvement in the lives of his daughter and six-year-old granddaughter periodically brings him into painful contact with his ex-wife. One minor confusion, which could easily have avoided, is the naming the ex-wife, daughter, and granddaughter Marianne, Miriam, and Marion.

The dead teenager, Camilla Green, went missing from a home for troubled teens called Hurumlandet Nurseries. In this multiple point-of-view novel, you see some of the other girls in action and know they are hiding important information – information that may put one of them at risk too.

The case takes a bizarre and, lamentably, all-too-realistic turn when the police team’s cyber expert Gabriel is contacted by a former buddy, a hacker nicknamed Skunk. Skunk has captured horrifying images from the Dark Web showing Camilla before she was killed. They help explain some of the puzzling pathological findings, and for a few seconds in the background the detectives see a person dressed as an owl. The pictures persuade them that the killer won’t stop with a single victim, and the urgency of identifying the perpetrator only grows.

There are plenty of suspects – people from Camilla’s sketchy past or at the group home. A man, Jim Fuglesang, who always wears a white bicycle helmet, indoors or out, confesses to the crime, producing photos of a dog and cat arranged on a bed of feathers, in a pentagram of candles, exactly as Camilla was. Is he the killer, and if not what does he know?

At the book’s end, a few threads remain untied, and it’s hard to see why the detectives used a character’s cell phone records and not passport control information to establish he was out of the country. Phone records indicate where the phone was, not necessarily the suspect. The setting and atmosphere are utterly convincing, though if you’re tired of the torture-of-beautiful-young-woman trope, beware.

This is one of several recent crime thrillers involving ritual murder (The Chalk PitBlue Light Yokohama) and allusions to Satanism (Ill Will, Devil in the Grass). The derangement of such perpetrators and their bizarre practices set them well apart from ordinary society, making them on one hand more threatening (to good order), and on the other less intimate. Unlike in a domestic thriller, it’s hard to imagine such events happening to you or someone you know.

What you can envision is Munch’s daughter Miriam’s attraction to Ziggy, the new man in her life. He’s part of an animal rights action group that involves her longtime friend Julia and others, and the fact that he turns out to be super-rich is a pleasant bonus. But, suspicious you, you have your doubts.

Doubleday
Print/Kindle/iBook
£5.59

CFL Rating: 4 Stars

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