It occurred to me not long ago that nearly everything I know about Norway comes from Norwegian crime fiction; and Jo Nesbo in particular. I’m Travelling Alone is an opportunity to see that country through the eyes [and pen] of a new Norwegian crime writer, the mysterious Samuel Bjork. Though marketed as a debut, Bjork is actually the pen name of the novelist, playwright and singer/songwriter Frode Sander Oien.
At the outset I took exception to the cover blurb which, quite unnecessarily, warned Jo Nesbo to “Watch out”.If publicists are going to employ questionable comparisons in marketing their products, they could at least choose appropriate ones, as comparisons with Jo Nesbo are certainly unjustified. A more apt comparison might invoke Arne Dahl, given the similarity to the A Team stories.
Having got that off my chest we can balance these gripes with praise. The two main characters have originality as well as enormous appeal. Veteran police investigator Holger Munch has three unrelated problems – his weight, cigarettes, and a tendency to be confused with Munch the artist. He is separated from his wife, remains close to his daughter, Miriam, who is soon to be married, and dotes on his six year old granddaughter Marion. His elderly mother lives in an elderly residential home where she is in danger of falling prey, and losing her savings, to the blandishments of a small Christian cult. He is also developing a relationship with one of the nurses who cares for his elderly mother. These intimate details are worth mentioning, as they all bear closely to the story. The other character is the even more complex Mia Kruger, an ex-detective, former colleague of Munch who has opted for a reclusive existence on an island off the coast of Norway, having been kicked out of the police for shooting the drug dealer who turned on, and effectively killed her sister Sigrid. Mia is biding her remaining time on the island preparing to commit suicide on the anniversary of Sigrid’s death.
Within days of Mia’s intended demise, she is contacted by Munch and persuaded to re-join the old team which has been reformed to investigate a series of strange murders. The victims are all 6 year old girls who are found hanging from trees, dressed in uniforms as if about to start their first day at school. They have satchels complete with pencil cases, rulers and books. Around their necks are travel labels indicating “I’m Travelling Alone”. As the death count mounts, the case comes ever nearer toward the personal realm of the two detectives, also reminding them of a case they had failed to resolve several years earlier.
The climax threatens the lives of Kruger, Munch and those nearest and dearest to him. The ending is gripping, and calls on the ingenuity of the team, collectively to come together. Sadly, that does leave [totally] unresolved one of the sub-plots included to pad out the story; namely the events surrounding two young boys who live near to one of the forests, in which one of the young girls is found. Maybe some judicious editing might have been beneficial in this instance.
I’m Travelling Alone is a promising debut which makes you hope for even more interesting work from Samuel Bjork in the future, and work that will be less reliant on comparisons with other writers from Norway.