Too many bodies nailed to the wall: two sadistic thrillers, and another mystery

A while ago I read this absolute rave review in the NYTBR of a European mystery thriller called Sorry (by Zoran Drvenkar).  I’m partial to Nordic/European crime fiction, and this sort-of postmodern German thriller sounded right up my alley, albeit a bit gross: “Stunning… If you, my own reader, have made it this far, waded through the moral questions and the postmodern tricks of perspective and chronology, then you’ve earned the right to hear the best news: “Sorry” thrills, and it thrills immaculately.”

I read the whole thing and disliked it.  This was a case where I truly was saying to myself, “Ok, wait, which person is this nailed to the wall?  And who is seeing the corpse?”  Too many bodies nailed to the wall, I literally could not keep track.  The grotesque violence is disgusting, yes, and/but, more importantly, the theme and images of the serial killer who sculpts bodies like a conceptual artist feels rote, over-familiar, a tired trope akin to a wizard in a robe, a superhero, a damsel in distress.

I just went through this again with Jo Nesbo’s The Snowman.  I actually was enjoying the novel quite a bit for the first half or so.  A bit like Henning Mankell, Nesbo is very good at sketching memorable characters among the various detectives, and pulling you into their personal and work lives.  At a certain point, though, the Silence of the Lambs mechanics start to dominate: yes, once again we have an insane serial killer here who expresses his pathology through creatively-sculpting the bodies of those he murders.  (How often does this really happen?)  In this case, he stages them as snowmen, and/or builds little snowman avatars peering in their windows.  It all has something to do with a primal scene; the snowman is, I guess, the killer himself, emotionally frozen, watching the trauma.

Bleah!  I regretted reading both of these (though The Snowman actually was enjoyable in some ways).

Also just read Raven Black, “Book One of the Shetland Island Quartet,” by Ann Cleeves.  This is in a less gruesome, cozier English-mystery tradition.  It has elements of a locked-room mystery in that it all takes place in a very small town on the Shetland Islands in Scotland.  The isolated, gorgeous, windswept, insular community, layered with longstanding grudges and suspicions and alliances, is very well evoked.  I have to say that ultimately I was not crazy about the way the mystery was resolved… I won’t say more, but I thought the conclusion was a slight let-down.  A good read, however.

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