The Dinosaur Feather Paperback – 26 May 2011
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'The Dinosaur Feather is simply first class' Jyllands-Posten. (Jyllands-Posten)
'Sissel-Jo Gazan has mastered the arts of suspense and revelation' Kristeligt Dagblad. (Kristeligt Dagblad)
'Sissel-Jo Gazan's novel has by far outdone, not to say outshone, all other crime novels published this year' Politiken. (Politiken)
From the Back Cover
How could one man inspire such hatred?
Professor Lars Helland is found at his desk with his tongue lying in his lap. A violent fit has caused him to bite through it in his death throes. A sad but simple end. Until the autopsy results come through.
The true cause of his death - the slow, systematic and terrible destruction of a man - leaves the police at a loss. And when a second member of Helland's department disappears, their attention turns to a postgraduate student named Anna. She's a single mother, angry with the world, desperate to finish her degree. Would she really jeopardise everything by killing her supervisor?
As the police investigate the most brutal and calculated case they've ever known, Anna must fight her own demons, prove her innocence and avoid becoming the killer's next victim.
The Dinosaur Feather is the most fascinating, complex and unusual Scandinavian crime novel since Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow.
Top customer reviews
Sadly, she is so hellbent on explaining her characters backgrounds that she ends up sacrificing page upon page upon page to describe the backstory of the characters that you completely forget this is actually a story about a rather gruesome murder. The beginning trudges along as Gazan delves way too deep into how Anna, the main character, met her boyfriend Thomas who then left her when their daughter was born, how Anna's childhood friend Troels was being tormented by an abusive father, how she had a falling out with Troels and other friend Karen in their late teens, how her relationship with her parents, colleagues and even her daughter is strained to say the least. And just when you think you know every little detail there is to know about Anna and is ready to move on with solving murders, the other main character, Søren, gets the same treatment. And then a third character who turns out to not really be that important to the outcome anyway. In the end, all Gazan achieves by doing this is making Anna come across as a genuine dislikeable person who throws one hideous tantrum after another and who pushes everybody close to her, even her own daughter, away and yet for some mind-boggling reason they keep coming back. And as a reader, you completely forget you are actually reading what is supposed to be a crime-thriller but instead reads more like a run-of-the-mill family drama.
Just barely holding it all together is the the crime-plot itself which has its moments of brilliance. The story does pick up after a very long period of drudging through one deeper-than-deep character backstory after the other, and when the victim's cause of death is revealed, your stomach churns and you think:" right, now we are in business!" Alas, the plot then quickly runs out of steam again as Anna gets busy with throwing more tantrums. Then another murder happens an you hope things will finally kick into gear! But they never do. In fact, so many of the elements of the story are so constant out of sync with each other that it makes your head spin and the end result feels more like a series of random plot ideas that are sewn together to make a whole but ends up as a patchwork with no clear identity, no clear goal and no sense of self. And when the crime is finally solved, the murderer and the motive itself is so run-of-the-mill you can't help but shake your head in despair over such an interesting premise having such a bland outcome. If you know your crime-thrillers you will actually have guessed who the murderer is halfway through. Not because of what that character says or did or didn't do in the actual story but simply because how the author introduces that character to begin with and then suddenly draws a connection to another character where there was none to make things fit.
The Dinosaur Feather is not not what you would expect and if you want pure crime solving and Danish noir then this is NOT for you.
Sissel-Jo Gazan, b. 1973, seems to have received little or no advice or direction from Quercus before publishing this over-long, excessively detailed book. Since it is Gazan’s biggest literary undertaking, my criticisms are directed primarily at her editors who, amongst other oversights, retained these lines, ‘Søren hung up and very slowly ate five apples. It felt like they started fermenting in his stomach right away, something was certainly brewing.’ One reviewer has suggested that the book might be read as a pastiche of the immensely successful Scandinavian crime genre. Sadly, I do not detect the slightest tinge of humour to support this possibility.
After three or more years focused on a PhD, it is too easy to believe that its topic will engross the general public rather than being of interest to a narrow group of academics. Not knowing whether dinosaurs with feathers are birds or not does not keep me awake at night but, as a background to a murder mystery, the question is interesting. However, when pages and pages of seemingly undigested academic text obscure plot development and, worse, permeate ‘conversations’ between characters [‘Johannes knew a vast amount about Karl Popper and his ideas about falsification, about Thomas Kuhn who introduced the concept of paradigm in the 1960s, and especially about Lorraine J. Daston and her concept of scientific moral economies’.], something has gone awry.
And just when we think we could submit a PhD on this topic ourselves, we are given the opportunity to extend our researches into the cysticerci of the parasite, Taenia solium.
This very long book has been translated from the Danish by Charlotte Barslund who deserves a great deal of credit for her application and dedication. Given the enormity of her task, the occasional selection of a glaringly inappropriate word is understandable, as when a Medical Examiner calls parasites ‘critters’ or when a scientist tipped for a Nobel Prize describes a character as a ‘shirt-lifter’.
Scientists immerse themselves in the minutiae of their chosen research area and, whilst this is laudable, the author applies this same detail to her characters who are provided with reams and reams of backstories [about Anna, Superintendant Søren Marhauge (repeatedly described as ‘The World’s Most Irritating Detective’), the Canadian, Clive Freeman, and the model, Troels, absent for much of the book] that are not commensurate with the development of the plot. Even so, they fail to leave the page.
Marhauge’s brilliance as a detective is apparently due to his ‘knitting backwards’ and to razor-sharp reasoning, as when he finds some e-mails that ‘were sent from an account in the name of Donald Duck and the sender calls himself YourGuy, so we think it might be a man.’
The world of science is a very close one and this is more so within any one discipline and speciality. When one of the world’s foremost authorities dies, on the eve of a major global conference that he has been instrumental in arranging, it is impossible to believe that e-mails and social media would not have brought this to the attention of his colleagues, friends and enemies. Years ago, conferences and printed journals were the primary sources of new knowledge – but this has not been the situation for the last two decades.
Within this 536 page book there are the bones, mostly dinosaur, of an interesting story half that long where the plot takes precedence and characterisation and backstory support the action rather than inhibiting it.
Few characters gain the reader’s interest or sympathy and I began to imagine how one might arrange their demise with a spoonful of gloop containing parasites. Anna Bella has a small daughter who seems to be growing up with her mother’s tendency to lose her temper and rail at those around her. But, old or young, Gazan’s characters are uniformly depressing. There are some descriptions of goth and fetish activities that may upset some readers.
This book should probably not be read by any young people considering a fulfilling career in contemporary science and technology. The stereotypical description of scientists as a bunch of twisted, uncommunicative, parasite-hosting nerds does neither the author nor her story any favours. Quercus 1/10, Gazan 4/10 - as there are occasional signs that, with good editing, the author might have a story to tell.
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From start to finish the author spent far too long introducing us to the back story of each character.Read more
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