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The Murder of Halland
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Reading the excellent review above by Andrew Blackman, I am nearly at a loss to add up anything after his great summing-up of the book. Ironically presented as the 'Nordic crime fiction' of the smart Pereine Press, 'the murder of Halland' it is in fact a long way from that genre. Yes a crime is committed at the start and a man dies in mysterious circumstances but then the story progresses in quite an evasive way. Certainly no police procedural here! Bess, the narrator and wife of the dead man, quickly drags us into her dreamy and somehow subtly deranged mental world. Because everything we know of the situation is only presented through Bess's point of vue, you wonder where it's all going and even if she has not in fact played some part in the murder. But nothing here is about solving. Soon you simply enjoy the strangeness, eeriness even, of this tale where nothing is exactly as you expect, where things happen with just enough logic that you believe in it but also with just enough quirkiness that you're a little thrown out of comfort zone. It definitely feels very nordic, you can sense the luminous, surreal, troubled light in the landscape and the people are little odd too, as you imagine them to be in a small village lost in far Denmark. The reactions of Bess to the murder of her husband is at the same time, funny enough, very credible and totally bizarre. And that is only one of the many elements in this wonderful little book, that keep you enraptured all along, a book where you keep being surprised in a very unusual way, and satisfied too in the end, but certainly by no obvious means! A masterful writer that I hope to read again...
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 22 July 2012
A gripping, beautifully written novel, though not a typical crime novel. The narrator, Bess, asks `What am I? Can you tell me who I am?' which captures Bess's urgency to understand not only herself, after Halland is murdered, but also people in her life - family, friends, neighbours.

Bess navigates the aftermath of her beloved's unexpected death, his secrets he kept from her and her inability to share fully her own life with him. Finding the killer is almost secondary to the discoveries Bess makes about her relationship with Halland and people around her.

This novel is a breath of fresh air in the flood of bloody and violent crime novels on the market. Juul gives voice to the forgotten ones, the people who are rarely given a chance to tell their side of the story. The lack of police procedural or a detective as the main character makes this novel stand out.

Each chapter is meticulously constructed, preceded with a quote from various works of fiction which made want to read some of them after I finished reading this intriguing novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Translated from the Danish by Martin Aitken.

Bess has been working late and never made it to bed. When she awakens, Halland is gone. The doorbell rings and having opened the door, Bess learns that Halland has been shot.

This is the story of a crime, and there is a death and an accusation of murder within the first three pages, and possible suspects are revealved, but it is not an everyday crime novel; instead the author has taken a different route here. This novel explores the psychological aspects of loss experienced by Bess, her reactions, her erratic, confused thinking, her struggle to cope in the wake of her bereavement. 'My mind ran on two parallel tracks: one thinking about nothing, merely existing, the other churning out unpleasant explanations.' The author demonstrates how grief makes Bess's behaviour unusual, curious, almost absurd at times.

Narrated throughout in the first person by Bess, a complex character, we have a stark and intimate portrayal of someone in the traumatic aftermath of losing their partner, experiencing a sudden bereavement and this causing them to re-examine their life. Bess almost immediately thinks about a previous loss that she has experienced in her life of someone close to her, and of the regret that that relationship is not a close one. Halland's death makes her rethink what, and who, is important in her life, and how well she really knew Halland, as she discovers his secrets. There is little input from the detective investigating the death, and when there is, it is all from Bess's perspective.

The author effectively conveys Bess's confusion and uncertainty in how to behave in the way that she asks herself many questions and doubts her ability to remember with clarity: 'What did we say to each other in those days? What did we ever say?' or to be able to decide what would be appropriate behaviour - how does one pick up the pieces and deal with the mundance after such a shock? 'At what point would I cancel an engagement?'

I found this an interesting, challenging read. I was fascinated to learn how Bess would cope after the death of Halland, and at times I was surprised by her behaviour. In some ways I found the story a challenge, in that the author cleverly played with my expectations and perceptions of what would happen. This style results in a story that is, for me, both intriguing and yet at times difficult to actually enjoy and a little frustrating due to the strangeness; but having said that, it offers an intellectual challenge to the reader to experience something different to the norm, and I glad to have been open to this experience and to have read this work. And something that struck me was that always there is the constant presence of nature in the background throughout the book, the glittering sunlight on the fjord.

To paraphrase the commentator quoted in praise of the book, this novel (and the others published by this press) are almost like a chance to spend a couple of hours experiencing a thought-provoking European film but in literary form. It is a beautifully designed and presented volume.

This book won the most important literary prize in Denmark in 2009 when it was published there. It is part of the Small Epic series of three works being published this year by Peirene Press, who publish contemporary European literature they identify as 'throught provoking, well designed and short.'
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The blurb on the back of this says about it being anything but a standard crime novel, and I have to say that really would you call this a crime novel as such? Narrated by Bess, her other half, Halland has been found shot to death in the town square. If this was a crime novel then it would be a whodunnit style as the killer is tracked down, but this isn't so.

Ultimately this book raises questions instead of answering them. As we read Bess' narrative we find that she may not be that reliable a narrator, and that she doesn't seem to be that mournful over the death of her partner. As you read further into this the actual murder becomes to a certain degree inconsequential, a sideline if you like to the main tale. From what is happening at the time we are also given flashbacks into Bess before she met Halland, her isolation from her daughter, indeed really from her whole family. We also learn that Halland himself has obviously been keeping things from Bess.

We get the feeling of Bess and guilt, and also how there seems to be more than one side to everything, even with the murder itself we are ultimately left unsure who really did it, making this short novel an unusual but perhaps a more interesting read. Written with sparse prose Pia Juul definitely gives us something that is disjointed to a degree but highly readable, and something that is much deeper than its shortness would indicate.

This would be a great book for a book group as there is so much to argue, ponder, and discuss here.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 13 February 2013
It is a seemingly ordinary evening when we meet Bess and Halland Roe. After watching a crime drama on the televison, Halland announces an early start the next morning and retires to bed. Bess, a writer, decides to catch up on some work in the study and eventually collapses on the sofa so as not to wake her husband. A single loud noise awakens her which she assumes is Halland leaving the house. Then comes the urgent knocking on the front door.

Halland has been fatally wounded by a single gun shot in the market square. Unbelievably, the police officer at the door is arresting Bess for his murder, as the last words Halland spoke appear to have been "my wife has shot me." Of course we know she hasn't, has she?. All she wants right now is too see her daughter Abby, but she hasn't seen her for over ten years after an acrimonious divorce from Abby's father. Neither does she speak to her own mother, so who can Bess turn to for help?

So unwinds a wonderfully written novella, complex and intriguing, which is not just a darn good crime story, but a portrait of bereavement, feuding families and the wafer thin relationship between a mothers and daughters. There is also a fascinating insight in to small town life and the petty goings on between close neighbours. Oh and Halland has been leading a double life....all the red herrings line up one by one and the reader is unable to tell if Bess is implicit in some way or whether it was a careless accident or indeed murder.

Written by Denmark's leading literary author Pia Juul and impeccably translated in to English by Martin Aitken, this is another successful publication by the classy Peirene. It is not what you would call a usual crime novel. It is quirky and a joy to read. It takes pride of place on my bookshelf among all of Peirene's other publications to date. Great stuff.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 17 August 2012
This book starts with the murder of Halland, who is gunned down yards from his home. The police turn up to arrest his wife Bess, as it appears with his dying words he had accused her of the crime. If you, like myself, are going "Ok, another Nordic crime thriller", check out the publisher's name. Yep Peirene Press, and past experience has taught me that this won't follow the usual genre rules, that at the very least there will be an interesting twist and I'm pleased to say they haven't yet let me down.

Although there's a murder, a gun and a dour seeming inspector, this book focuses on Bess and how the bereavement acts as a catalyst causing her to reassess her friends, family and ultimately her life. We follow Bess as she careens from pillar to post, sometimes drunk, sometimes bemused, whilst attempting to understand, to come to terms with Halland's death and all that has come to light because of it.

Last year I read a book by Shuichi Yoshida and this reminds me of that, although both tales differ considerably, in both there's a murder at it's centre, a black hole around which everything turns and yet it is the effect of this crime on the individual that becomes the focus of the story, the crime is merely the matrix that allows this focus. As with the other book The murder of Halland is the type of thriller that gives the genre a great name, it's intelligent, thought provoking, it asks questions, whilst doing so in a manner that doesn't give you a list of pat, generic answers, leaving you to ponder any answers for yourself.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 5 June 2012
Written in the first person, this is the story of Bess, a fully realised, not entirely likeable, complex person, reacting to the murder of her husband. I really liked the voice for its originality. I liked the way the novel subverted my expectations both of character and plot. Great access again from Pereine Press to European literature in translation. There is a TLS quote describing Pereine's short novels as "two hour books - literary cinema" and continuing that theme, if you like European cinema for its difference and intelligence you would like what Pereine publish. I look forward to the next one.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
The book begins with a murder. Soon detectives are on the scene, and the victim's life is being unravelled piece by piece, revealing a double life and several people with possible motives.

But this is not your average detective novel. For one thing, The Murder of Halland is narrated in the first person by Halland's widow, Bess. This makes a difference, because what we see is a very skewed view of the investigation. She discovers some things about Halland, like an apartment in Copenhagen he'd been renting, and a niece who's pregnant with a child she suspects may be his. She withholds this, and other things, from the police, and is quite detached from the investigation in general. So we don't get the usual examination of suspects and accumulation of evidence. We don't get much of the police procedure at all, and we don't get much sense of progress.

There's a dreaminess to the narrative throughout. Bess is asleep when her husband is murdered and never seems to fully wake up. The first time a policeman arrives, he seems like a character from a dream, someone she's seen before, parking his car opposite the house. He arrives, breathless, and shouting that he's arresting her "in the name of the law", before disappearing, never to be seen again. When the real police come later, they know nothing about him. The brief episode is slightly surreal and absurd.

Bess also doesn't behave as a widow is supposed to behave. She worries about the fact that people don't see her crying, and indeed some other characters comment that she doesn't seem to be grieving properly. She goes out to a dance and gets drunk on aquavit. She kisses her neighbour on the lips. She examines the history of her relationship with her dead husband in a detached way, completely free of sentimentality. She throws Halland's niece out of the house for grieving more than she is, and then fantasises about her being hit by a car.

The plot also frustrates the normal conventions, which are actually described within the book, as Bess sits down to make herself happy by watching a detective series:

"First a murder, nothing too bestial. Then a police inspector. Insights into his or her personal problems, perhaps. Details about the victim. Puzzles and anomalies. Lines of investigation. Clues. Detours. Breakthrough. Case solved. Nothing like real life."

She tries to make a list of the facts and lines of inquiry in her own husband's case, but it means nothing to her, and she replaces it with a list beginning "Laundry. Groceries. Dry cleaning."

This is a book in which the puzzles are not solved, the anomalies are not explained, and the lines of investigation are not pursued (at least within what we see from Bess's viewpoint). There's no breakthrough, and the ending is ambiguous, with the police selecting one probable suspect but the last few lines suggesting another possibility altogether.

Nobody behaves quite how you'd expect: the estranged daughter is surprisingly conciliatory, while the bitter ex-husband wants to sleep with her. The neighbour doesn't react with surprise at being kissed, or really react in any way at all. The more hostile Bess is towards Halland's niece, the more friendly she is in return. It's all weird, and yet it all rings true, because in real life people are weird and they do behave in unexpected ways.

Which brings me back to what makes this book "literary". Bess does not behave in ways that are looked at approvingly. She doesn't do the things that grieving widows are supposed to do. Similarly, the other characters defy convention. They behave in ways that surprise us, challenging our expectations rather than reinforcing them.

The effect on the plot is to make it unsatisfying by normal standards. There's no rising tension, no breakthrough, no neat resolution. Strands appear to be going somewhere, and then break off. The neighbour is abducted, but then turns up again. Bess finds that Halland transferred a huge amount of money to her account shortly before his death, but this is never explained. The daughter turns up after years of separation, but there's no big confrontation or reconciliation, and then she goes away again. Everything seems like an anticlimax.

And yet, it works. I think it works because it feels true. I'm reminded of something E.M. Forster wrote in Aspects of the Novel, about the tussle between character and plot - does the author want to give a satisfying plot and corral the characters into doing what he/she wants, or be true to who the characters really are and what they would really do, which may be less satisfying plot-wise? In genre fiction I think the plot often wins out, but in literary fiction it's about character.

In The Murder of Halland, it's definitely about character, and the result is something odd, sometimes frustrating, but ultimately successful.
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on 13 February 2014
I enjoyed this book while I was reading it but was highly disappointed with the ending as all the questions raised were left unanswered. It drove me crazy. The one thing I love when I'm reading (as a writer) is to try and second guess how the author is going to turn things around. Seriously, this book was far too ambiguous. We don't get to know if he had an affair, who kidnapped the neighbour, why he left her so much money and most importantly, WHO KILLED HALLAND!?8*&%£$% I raise but a few unanswered questions here.
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on 1 April 2013
This story is told from the point of view of the partner of the murdered man. The characterisations and the writing is very good. Bess first learns of her partner's murder through the arrival of a policeman on her doorstep to arrest her. From then, we join her on the surreal journey through the aftermath of his killing and funeral and flashbacks to her life with him and before him. A neighbour disappears following the murder. Gradually, the who and the why is revealed.
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