Friday, June 15, 2012

The Murder Of Halland - Pia Juul

My second book in translation of the week - and I have to admit this one was far more baffling than 'The Treatise of Walter of Bibbesworth'. 'The Murder Of Halland' is the latest book from Peirene, it's billed as a crime novel and whilst Halland is murdered (as the title suggests) and the police are called in that's where any resemblance to traditional crime writing ends. I'm a little out of my depth here - I don't read much contemporary fiction and stick to decidedly cosy crime so I don't know quite how atypical this book is, but I'm guessing it's by way of being one of a kind in it's genre.

Bess and Halland are a successful semi public couple; Bess is a well known writer - she never reveals what Halland does, maybe because she doesn't know. They've lived together for ten years, ever since Bess walked out on her husband and teenage daughter, an action that seems to have precipitated an estrangement from most of her family. The action kicks off a couple of pages in with a bang at the door and a local caretaker trying to perform a citizen's arrest; Halland has been shot - his dying words apparently implicating his wife. Bess however isn't Halland's wife, they never married, and this is the first of many ambiguities. It's Bess we follow as she deals with what happens after your lover is shot down in the street.

This is where the book diverges from traditional crime fiction, neither Bess, or Juul - and perhaps by extension the reader, are really interested in who killed Halland although there are tantalising clues regarding a double life laid out for us. Bess grieves for the man she's lived, though hardly shared, her life with for a decade but Halland's murder makes it clear that there was little between them; a year of happiness followed by 9 years of illness and slowly separating paths.  

For me however the focus of the book, the thing that kept me turning the pages, was the relationship between Bess and her daughter - Abby. Abby hasn't spoken to her mother since she left, the question is with Halland gone will they reunite? It's a book full of questions with few answers, Bess is an unreliable narrator, she's also hard to like - but she's easy enough to empathise with. I feel like this book shouldn't have worked for me, but it did. It may not be particularly satisfying as a piece of detective fiction, but as an examination of grief, and dysfunctional family dynamics it's excellent. 


  1. It's an excellent book because of its breaking of crime fiction clichés. I think the marketing of the book as crime fiction was a little tongue-in-cheek (and for marketing purposes!) - it's definitely more literary fiction than a detective novel :)

    My thoughts can be seen here if you're interested:

  2. I found it a hard book to blog about - it begs to be discussed, but if you talk to much about what happens in it you risk to many spoilers. There were things I was very clear about and other elements that totally baffled me. I read a few blogs about it whilst trying to put my own thoughts in order - most of them (your's excluded) reflected the same confusion I felt.

    I think the crime tag, ironically applied or otherwise, is appropriate for a book that employs a fair bit of misdirection and mystery. Whilst I was trying to write about it I couldn't help but feel that I should have been impatient with this book, and although I know why it did work for me it's still a surprise that it did - I hope that makes sense.