Initially, L. J. Hurst worked in the backrooms of the media industry. He now divides his time between work for an international scientific publisher and a rather more British independent bookseller. In years past he was a regular attendee at the Shots on the Page Festivals from whence Shots Mag sprung
There is something about Scandinavians: they make such perfect victims when considering the popularity of this region’s crime-fiction internationally.
So with prevalent stereotyping the Scandinavians appear blonde, they are blue-eyed and so they exude innocence. And they may well be innocent in the eyes of church and society; and their souls may well be clean. So when they find themselves in cells, cellars, prisons and lonely sheds the reader feels their torture even more acutely. I am talking about Scandinavian women, of course, as rich perverts who have paid to slake their bizarre lusts seem to have little desire to watch men die in ways that might otherwise be no more than an uncommon agricultural accident.
Contrarily, when you read THE OWL ALWAYS HUNTS AT NIGHT, you might wonder what it is about Scandinavians – Norwegians in this case – that makes them such melancholic human beings; most carrying so many burdens on their shoulders, that it is a wonder that they can ever look up and see the crime before their eyes. And that is not just the police. Social workers, shop keepers, nurses all seem to carry the curse. According to Samuel Bjork, who has given us this sequel to 2015’s I’M TRAVELLING ALONE, the two worst affected are Holger Munch, head of homicide, and Mia Krüge; his revered detective but a woman with so troubled a history I’d be tempted to think she was a mortal vector on legs. The rest of the team are little better – that is to say, almost - but not as much troubled as Mia.
What Bjork gives us in this outing is a body found and laid out in a laborious pose, one that repeats a design in which tortured animals have previously been displayed. The post mortem reveals more horrors. Intercut with the police investigation are accounts of two children allegedly sent to Australia, who may have disappeared, and children in dormitories given night-time drugs that they might or might not be swallowing. In the present day, a progressive home for disturbed youth seems to be involved. Meanwhile, Munch, who can’t accept that his marriage is over, finds that he cannot protect his ex-wife, or daughter, or grand-daughter as their connections intentionally or not, begin to impinge on his investigation.
If you like Scandinavian crime fiction, and want more of it, you will find new combinations of it here: dubious millionaires, rotten social experiments, strange figures who live in the woods, and murderers with design skills that must make them the envy of Saab and Volvo. It would be a twisted logic that spoke of the security of the familiar when reading a novel about crime, but it is true that THE OWL ALWAYS HUNTS AT NIGHT does not set any literary precedents. It may do what it says on the tin - just don’t get into the car, whether you know the driver or not.
Translated by Charlotte Barsland