Review: More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff

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MoreBitterThanDeathMore Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff (Simon & Schuster, 2013)

Blurb: It’s a rainy evening in a Stockholm suburb and five-year-old Tilda is hiding under the kitchen table playing with her crayons when a man enters and beats her mother to death in cold blood. The only witness, Tilda can’t quite see the murderer or figure out who he is. But she’s still a witness.

Across town, Siri Bergman and her best friend, Aina, are assisting their old friend Vijay with a research project on domestic abuse. They host a weekly self-help group for survivors, and over the course of several dark, rainy evenings, these women share their stories of impossible love, violence, and humiliation. When the boyfriend of one of the women turns out to be a prime suspect in a high-profile murder case, it isn’t long before Siri finds herself embroiled in the investigation. But as she draws closer to finding the murderer, unexpected developments in her own life force her to wonder: Can she learn to trust a man again in spite of being surrounded by women who have been so deeply betrayed by love?

 

The last few years have been difficult for Siri Bergman. She’s lost her husband and she’s been the victim of a vicious stalker. But things seem to be looking up: her friends are supportive as ever, and she’s got a new man in her life who knows firsthand what she’s been through. But when Siri and her best friend/business partner Aina agree to host a self-help group for women with PTSD, Siri is once again forced to confront her own past: she too has been betrayed, and she too must make a decision—to remain on her own, or to take that leap and trust a man, her boyfriend, the detective who investigated her stalking case. It’s a decision made even more complicated when she finds out she’s carrying his child.

Like the first book in the series (Some Kind of Peace), this is a psychological thriller more than a mystery. In fact, the focus of the book is the women in the self-help group, although the murder of Tilda’s mother is always in the background. And like many Nordic crime novels, this one deals with broader social issues rather than an individual crime, in this case, the issue of violence against women—not just the women in the group, but in all of Sweden. However, this also makes the book difficult to read. Violence against women takes many forms, and enough of them were explored in the self-help group, and in enough detail, that I had to set the book aside from time to time. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; if the intent is to hold up a mirror to society, the authors have succeeded.

The biggest flaw in this book, for me, and what makes this much weaker than the first book, is that there wasn’t a whole lot of suspense or tension regarding the outcome of the investigation. Like Siri, we’re kept at arm’s length. While I was worried about Siri and what was going to happen to her, I didn’t have the sense of immediacy or urgency about the other characters that I did with Some Kind of Peace. One of the strengths of the series is that the authors have chosen patients whose issues resonate with Siri. But while it’s easy to accept a homicide detective or a crime reporter becoming involved in—or at least closely following—major crime investigations such that they’re personally affected, I’m not certain how well that will work out for a behavioral (i.e., not criminal) psychologist. I’d like to continue reading the series, in large part to see the answer to this question.

 

This ARC was furnished by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

My rating: 3 stars

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4 responses »

  1. I missed the tension in this book as well, and I didn’t feel like I understood the killer despite reading all the clinical reports about him either. I’m glad to hear that the first book in the series is better.

  2. The first book was better, in large part because Siri is directly involved in the case (she’s the victim). This one wasn’t bad, just not as good as it could have been 😦

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