Denmark has been in the news fairly often lately for conflicts between ethnic Danes and the immigrant Muslim population. This police procedural puts this cultural tension in sharp relief, providing an engaging way to glean insights into the “clash of civilizations” now occurring in the West and particularly in Europe.
Louise Rick, a 37-year-old Inspector with the Copenhagen homicide investigation unit, receives a temporary reassignment to the elite Mobile Task Force. A young Muslim girl has been murdered near Holbaek, an hour or so from Copenhagen. An “honor killing” is suspected.
[Honor killings occur in some cultures in which a family member has done something perceived to bring shame and dishonor upon the entire extended family. The “objectionable” behavior can include, among other things, any perceived sexual misconduct including getting raped; associating with others outside the community and adopting their values; or even disobedience. This can cause the whole family to become outcasts if the behavior is not “avenged.” Some women in these tightly-knit cultures prefer that the honor killings take place rather than having to endure the loneliness and humiliation of exclusion. And many of the women, having never been exposed to different systems of thought, cannot transcend the socialization that encourages them to believe the abuse or murder is justified.
As the author indicates in an excerpt from a U.N. report of March 2010, “The United Nations Population Fund estimates that perhaps as many as five thousand women and girls a year are killed by members of their own families. Many women’s groups in the Middle East and Southwest Asia suspect the number of victims is about four times greater.”]
Louise’s best friend Camilla is a reporter, and tries to diffuse the smoldering anti-immigrant mood surrounding the murder story by writing about non-immigrant groups using shame to control their members, especially females. She also reports on the number of girls in these groups who take their own lives as a response to the ostracism and humiliation inflicted upon them.
Meanwhile, in the midst of the investigation, there is a budding romance between two of the characters, and here Blaedel is exceptional at capturing the emotions that accompany new relationships, as in this example:
“‘Let’s stop here,’ she said, releasing her firm hold on him, but nonetheless willingly allowing herself to be pushed along as he guided her backward, both hands on her hips, away from the Irish coffee toward the house. As they walked slowly so she wouldn’t stumble, her eyes bore into his to determine how big a catastrophe this was. What did he think of her? Had she pressured him into this? Did he feel like he couldn’t turn her down? How crushing a failure would it be when he said this was all a mistake? That they should have stopped before they even started. … “
In fact, the author’s dialogue is very good when any emotional scene is involved. The scene in which Louise brought bad news to the parents of a second girl killed had me in tears.
Discussion: This turned out to be quite an enjoyable book, but it had to grow on me. Two things took me a while to get used to: (1) It has a largish cast of characters having both Danish and Jordanian names (this adjustment difficulty obviously being my problem rather than the author’s); and (2) It has a somewhat stilted narrative style, which I think could well be a function of translation. At the same time, the parts with dialogue have a much better flow. Certainly it is true that each culture and its language may have a wholly different syntax. Moreover, the arrangement of linguistic elements may be one way for dialogue and another for narration. The fact that the properties of the language may seem alien to us is not necessarily a reflection upon the skill of an author or translator.
At any rate, once I got accustomed to these constituents of the story, it became very engaging.
Evaluation: This book provides the usual suspense, humor, and romantic interludes that characterize squads of dedicated police professionals (at least in fiction!). The thought-provoking look at the tensions between two different cultures and the spotlight on gender politics adds a great deal of interest to the story. I definitely want to read more books by this author.
Published in the U.S. by Pegasus Crime, an imprint of Pegasus Books, LLC, 2012