WHERE RAVENS ROOST (Kjeld Nygaard #1)
Kjeld edged closer to get a better look. It was a human tooth. With a silver filling.
Detective Kjeld Nygaard wants nothing more than to forget his family and Varsund, the small mining town he once called home, even exist.
But while on suspension after his last case went disastrously wrong, his estranged father Stenar leaves a message on Kjeld’s phone claiming he’s seen a murder.
But with no evidence and Stenar suffering from Alzheimer’s, the local police think he must have imagined it. Kjeld can’t stop himself from investigating what actually happened, and soon discovers a body.
But when the police start to suspect Stenar, it’s a race against time to discover the truth before it’s lost forever.
But will uncovering the truth expose family secrets that are best left buried?
She has worked in healthcare and education, including as a pharmacy technician, karate instructor, and an English language teacher for the Dutch military.
She completed the Creative Writing MSc from the University of Edinburgh with Distinction in 2019 and also holds an MA in Scandinavian Literary Studies from the University of Amsterdam.
Born in ‘The Biggest Little City in the World’ and raised in America’s Rust Belt, she now lives in the Netherlands.
Where Ravens Roost is her debut novel.
“Publishing a book doesn’t make a person any more or less a writer, after all. If you write, you’re a writer. But when I got the call from an editor enthusiastic about acquiring my book I suddenly felt like I had earned the honor to call myself what I’d always dreamed I could be—a writer”
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“The call of the ravens was what woke him.
Stenar pulled back the curtains and peered out into the night. The clock on the nightstand read a quarter past eleven, but the engulfing darkness of the sky made it feel much later than that. Stenar rubbed his eyes and focused on the long walk between the house and the old barn thinly illuminated by the waning glow of a crescent moon. The barn and its attached rookery had been his grandfather’s doing, but Stenar had learned to love those birds. Unlike members of his own species they had been a consistent presence in his life. They understood him. they never left him.
They were his true family”
CHAPTER ONE – ONSDAG / WEDNESDAY
“Kjeld’s phone rang nonstop from the bustling rain-slick streets of Gothenburg to the winding frost-covered roads of Jamtland county. Even when he stopped at the Shell off the E16 near Mora to take a piss and refill his coffee amidst the crowd of tourists scrambling to try an authentic Swedish cinnamon roll and purchase discounted painted horses, his phone wouldn’t stop buzzing in his jacket pocket. A busload of tourists en route to the Dala horse museum caused the line for the single toilet to curve through the gift shop and outside the front entrance. Kjeld grumbled and relieved himself on the backside of the building beside an industrial waste container.
His phone continued to vibrate against his chest, but Kjeld didn’t answer. He knew who it was: Detective Sergeant Esme Jansson who had been, until recently, his partner in the Violent Crimes Division at Gothenburg City Police. That was before his suspension…”
“Apparently the line between good police work and breaking the law was finer than Kjeld realised and as far as the police commission was concerned, he’d not only stepped over that line, but completely ignored its existence”
“Decades later and they were still playing their parts in a never ending performance of familial dysfunction”
“He was just a staple of the community. The kind of person other people tried not to notice because they were either embarrassed that they didn’t know how to help or ashamed they didn’t try. He was the one person who everyone in town recognised, but no one actually knew”
“That’s how Bengt had always described him. Broken and impassable. Like he was some kind of unpaved mountain road blocked by fallen trees”
“It was a reminder that he didn’t exist in a vacuum. That even though he sometimes was alone or felt alone, he wasn’t. Not completely. There was always someone whose life was affected by his absence”
“It scared him, this desire to to take on parental responsibility, but it scared him even more to think that there would come a time when it wasn’t necessary anymore. When it wouldn’t matter. He wanted to be her father before she was too old to realise she didn’t need him”
” Some truths are best left buried”
After picking my broken self up off the floor, having finished reading this amazing story of part Scandi Noir, part domestic drama, part cultural fiction; I am still trying to assimilate that this is the debut novel of a new author – and failing dismally! The writing is just too assured, confident, compelling, visual and perceptive. The storyline a gritty, disturbing, powerful and emotional slow-burner with genuine depth, and told with real feeling.
I was taken on a unique and individual journey like no other before, and whilst I didn’t want to reach those closing final words, I knew that if I didn’t escape the clutches of those dark, claustrophobic and all-consuming pages, my fate might be irrevocably changed! I was drawn into this story right from the very first page and from then on, the short, well signposted chapters, led the way to an ending which whilst not exactly uplifting or heart-warming, was clearly not as gloomy as it might have been had all of my predictions come to pass.
I always imagine modern day Sweden to be a cosmopolitan hub of Scandinavian sophistication, which left me totally unprepared for the harsh and unforgiving forest and mining landscape of life near the Swedish/Norwegian border in the depths of the shortening autumn days; with the cast of dour, life-weary characters, seeming totally as one with their surroundings. Whilst the area of Jamtland is a real place, which I was able to virtually visit for myself, the town of Varsund, where the roots of the Nygaard family are clearly planted, is a location of fiction, which is probably just as well, as it definitely doesn’t sound like the place you would want to admit to calling home. It is the kind of environment which young people are desperate to leave just as soon as they are able, and should you miss that golden opportunity to escape, you only need to look at the older generations of your family to see exactly who you are destined to become in a few years time. It seems to offer all the trappings of life on the treadmill of a “one-horse town, where someone has shot the horse!”
The only member of the Nygaard family to make good his exit from Varsund, is Kjeld, although the place and reputation he has carved for himself in the society of the City of Gothenberg, is hardly an illustrious success. As a DI in the Gothenberg City Police he has definitely not covered himself in glory, and his personal life as husband, father and work partner, has been one long series of social and professional disasters. Now he is back home for a reluctant visit, breaking the many years of silent separation from his family, in response to a strange plea for help from his estranged and now dementia ridden father.
This is a well structured, multi-layered story which encapsulates; a crime demanding Kjeld’s detective skills to solve; a domestic crisis of proportions which threatens to engulf and overwhelm the entire Nygaard family if left unmanaged; and the devious and duplicitous actions of corporate dealings, which have terrifying ramifications for the the future of the family. The action isn’t fast-paced, but deliberately and relentlessly gruelling. The atmosphere between the protagonists is always strained and intense, no matter what the relationship. The observational, detailed and descriptive narrative offers such a clear window into the lives of the family, that I could imagine myself there, frozen to the bone, sitting at the Nygaard kitchen table, being forced to eat herrings, whilst Kjeld wrangles with his feelings and wrestles with his conscience, in a bid to expiate some form of reconciliation with Stenar, his father, whose grip on reality is diminishing almost in front of his eyes and Sara, his sister, whose jealousy has fuelled her hatred for so long, although until now she has kept her feelings hidden from Kjeld – or did he just not see the signs! So many lies, so much deceit and duplicitous behaviour, so many long-held rivalries and resentments. My suspect list for murder was soon whittled down to just a couple of names, as I had worked out the underlying plot within the first half of the story. However, the author carefully placed a few choice red herrings, which had me doubting myself a little, even though I was eventually proved correct about the storyline, but wrong about the perpetrator.
Whilst the cast of characters is quite vast, because of the insular nature of the storyline and their relationships, they often appear as almost a single entity, characterless, colourless and without individual personality or charisma. To be honest they almost sucked the life out of me as I was reading, such was the constant air of apathy and disappointment they exuded. The arrival of Esme, Kjeld’s partner in the Violent Crimes Division, looked as though it might shake things up a little and to her credit, she does manage to help focus Kjeld a little and surprisingly, out of what seems to be her normal character, she helps pick up the pieces in a practical sense, when Stenar’s dementia shows signs of getting too much for them all to cope with on a daily basis. Kjeld is a man on a journey of self-discovery, very much his father’s son in so many ways, although he would probably never admit it. His bluff, bluster and antagonistic behaviour, hides someone struggling to keep his shortcomings, emotions and vulnerabilities under control. It does appear that Esme might like her relationship with Kjeld to become more personal and intimate, although she is astute enough to realise that right now and right here, that isn’t appropriate. She and Kjeld have an unspoken synergy between them which means they always have each others backs covered and it will be interesting to see how their future relationship develops once they are back in “the real world.”
I particularly resonated with the author’s portrayal of Stenar’s advancing dementia, although I did read that this terrible illness had also affected her in a very personal way, so perhaps she, like myself, is looking at that part of the story with a practiced and detailed eye. Kjeld has no idea of what is about to face him on his return to Varsund and he is ill-prepared both mentally and physically to deal with the challenges which face him. Sara has been shouldering all of the work herself, as well as keeping her own family together and she is emotionally exhausted by the whole experience and at the end of her tether. Karin writes about the issue in a compassionate, caring and heartfelt way, yet without glossing over any of the details, or playing down the tragic consequences for an entire family. When it seems as though things can’t get any worse or more complicated for Kjeld, the final bombshell is dropped by Esme, which turns his entire world upside down and throws everything he thought he knew about his past, into disarray. It causes him to look at Stenar in a different light and even though he remains completely at odds with the way events were handled by his parents, he comes to accept that every action was taken out of love and protection for their family, particularly Kjeld himself. Whilst Kjeld doesn’t really want to touch any of the Lindqvist ‘blood money’, he fast realises that by accepting what is rightfully his, it will enable him to help pay back a family torn apart by the secrets they have been forced to keep for so long. He vows to try and change his life, one step at a time, towards becoming the better, more compassionate and fair-minded person he has now realised he is deep down. Will it be Esme or Bengt who stands by his side on his forward journey?
It seems that you can “take the man out of the darkness, but you can’t take the darkness out of the man.” – or can you?
Oh! and let’s not forget the ‘Hitchcockian’ guardians of the barn, the all-seeing, all-knowing, “unkindness” of crows, who certainly live up to their name. For Stenar they are his stability and life-blood, all that lies between him and his failing grasp of everyday routine. For Kjeld they were and still are, a constant source of discomfort and fear. For Sara, they are a millstone around her neck and the masters of her eventual downfall. This story definitely deserves to be optioned for film and would certainly give a new twist to “The Birds”!
This one ticked all the boxes for me, I loved it!
A complimentary download of this book for review purposes, was kindly made available by the publisher, and facilitated by NetGalley.
Any thoughts or comments are my own personal opinion and I am in no way being monetarily compensated for this, or any other article which promotes this book or its author.
I personally do not agree with ‘rating’ a book, as the overall experience is all a matter of personal taste, which varies from reader to reader. However some review sites do demand a rating value, so when this review is posted to such a site, it will attract a well deserved 5 out of 5 stars and a place on my Goodreads “favourites” list!