Thank you so much to publisher Head of Zeus, for allowing me access to a download of this amazing book, as a NetGalley auto-approved reader
She spends her days helping clients navigate their lives with a cool professionalism that has got her to the top.
She is your client.
But when her client Leah, a successful novelist, arrives at her office clearly distressed, begging Kristina to come to her remote cabin in the woods, she feels the balance begin to slip.
But out here in the woods.
When Leah fails to turn up to her next two sessions, Kristina reluctantly heads out into the wilderness to find her.
Nothing is as it seems.
Alone and isolated, Kristina finds Leah’s unfinished manuscript, and as she reads she realises the main character is terrifyingly familiar
Alex Dahl is a half-American, half-Norwegian author.
Born in Oslo, she studied Russian and German linguistics with international studies, then went on to complete an MA in creative writing at Bath Spa University and an MSc in business management at Bath University.
A committed Francophile, Alex loves to travel and has so far lived in Moscow, Paris, Stuttgart, Sandefjord, Switzerland, Bath and London.
Her very first thriller, The Boy At The Door, was a Sunday Times Crime Club star pick and was shortlisted for a CWA New Blood Dagger award.
Alex has published short stories in the U.K. and the U.S. and has seen her work translated into eleven languages and counting!
You can follow Alex on Twitter
You can connect with Alex on Facebook
“I never wanted to do anything else but write, and it wasn’t until I studied for a Master’s Degree in Business Management, I realized I’d slowly removed myself from the career I truly wanted. That was when I got really serious, and started to carve out non-negotiable writing time from an already jam-packed schedule. To succeed as an author, you really have to persevere, and don’t take one person’s opinion as indicative of your abilities as a writer. If you wish to make a living from writing, grow some thick skin, read everything you can get your hands on, and…write”
You’re in the woods, You’re alone. You’ve never known aloneness like this before, but now that you do, it will remain beside you like an unshakable shadow for the rest of your life. So much will be lost in the far recesses of your mind; no life can ever be retained in all of its moments, but you will remember this – the bitter, sickly taste of blood in your mouth, the thousand shades of green enveloping you, the taste, and color, of death. The deafening rumble of your heart echoing through your blood. The sharp-edged leaves knifing your arms and face as you crash through the foliage. Your fear – this vast and uncontrollable fear, as black and deep as a Norwegian forest lake. It will surge through you forever, prompted by big and small triggers entirely unrelated to these moments, and you’ll learn to live with it; you’ll have to.
CHAPTER ONE – KRISTINA, OCTOBER
She’s my two o’clock on Fridays, the second last before the weekend. Perhaps this makes me naturally more relaxed and good-humored, but Leah Iverson has always been a client I look forward to seeing. She’s reflective and interesting, with a natural ability to tap into my deepest empathy, and genuinely invested in the therapeutic process. In other words, she isn’t hard work. That’s not to say we haven’t done hard work together, at times very hard work.
“Eirik’s decision to go from international corporate law into politics was a joint decision and I knew full well that it would be demanding on our marriage. Or did I, really? There are so many things in life we can only truly understand once we’re actually living and feeling them”
“I am not what happened to me, but what I choose to become”
“It feels surreal that out of the three young girls who once did everything together and embarked on what was supposed to be the adventure of a lifetime, I’m the only one still alive. You have to live for all three of you”
“Something we have in common, you and I, is living a lie. And when you live in the shadow of one lie, you build more and more lies around that lie until nothing is true or real”
“Someone once told me that when it comes to writing, you start off with an earthquake and then work your way up to the climax”
“Haven’t you always said to me that the truth is never ugly, unlike lies, and that we will live better if we live by it?”
“Kristina Moss, the mind doctor who was saved by the dysfunction of her own mind”
“Looking at my sleeping husband, I feel a sliver of fear run through me for how little we actually know of another person, how little we can ever know of what goes on inside their head. Life, and love, are like therapy sessions at the end of the day – we only know what someone says and shows. But what about the things they choose to hide, and go to great lengths to keep hidden?”
“As her therapist, you know her darkest secrets. But how does she know yours?”
Wow! Nothing prepared me for the onslaught of emotions reading this book evoked, although I have to say that none of them were particularly happy or positive, which is of course, exactly as the author intended. This is another story from the Nordic Noir stable of books and the mood engendered throughout was as dark, dour and depressing as this particular version of the book cover itself. But I loved it and the pages simply flew by as I devoured every single word of the excellent writing and couldn’t wait to unravel the many strands of this lugubrious storyline.
Kristina and Eirik are a successful, forward thinking couple, she a therapist and he an up and coming politician, with his eye very firmly on the top job of Prime Minister. They live the lifestyle and the perfect picture would be complete if only there was the patter of tiny feet to complete the idyll – or would it? Kristina has a past which, if it were ever unlocked and reached the public domain, might well end Eirik’s ambitious career almost before it has begun; whilst Eirik is leading his own double life, with a scandal which would certainly precipitate his downfall, if information reached the wrong hands. That each of them truly believe they make the perfect couple, turns out to be completely mind-boggling and makes them downright dangerous to know.
Elisabeth is Kristina’s closest childhood friend, and although she comes with baggage of her own, it transpires that much of it can be laid fairly and squarely at Kristina’s door, if only Elisabeth would speak out and stop trying to protect someone she thinks of as a friend. One has given up her life for the other, but what thanks can she expect in the cold light of day, when the truth is revealed and the stakes are so high. Will she ever get to set the record straight?
Leah is one of Kristina’s clients and possibly her most troubled. A journalist turned successful author, who has written an autofiction book about the abusive marriage to her husband, Anton. That Leah suffers with fragile mental health, is without question, but how much of the story is fact and how much pure fiction, which in the wrong hands might have the power to irrevocably destroy an innocent man’s life. Why does Leah’s life seem so inexplicably entwined with Kristina’s and Eirik’s and how does she know so much personal information about the couple. More importantly, to what ends is she planning to use what she knows? At times I began to wonder who was the therapist and whom the patient, as one was definitely as dangerous and unstable as the other when cornered and challenged.
So many questions and at first glance, it would seem that Leah is the only one with secrets and a past she would rather remained consigned to history. However, as she begins to unravel a complex situation, the many transgressions committed by others begin to pile in on her, and she realises just how little control she actually has over anything and what a hornet’s nest she is opening up. When the action moves to a snowed-in cabin deep in the woods, you just know that events are going to spiral out of control pretty dramatically, drawing everyone into the net, from which none will escape unscathed.
This fluent storyline was so multi-layered and well structured, told in mercifully short, seamless and well signposted chapters, (just to allow for important things like breathing or relaxing my clenched fists!), by the two main protagonists Leah and Kristina, with Leah’s narrative being mostly told in the third person, whilst Kristina tells her own story – or at least her version of it! Suspenseful, intense, gripping and highly textured, the tension simply oozed from the pages, creating an atmosphere which was suffocating and claustrophobic, almost to the point of becoming nauseating. There were so many twists and turns, so much lying and deceit, I almost became frightened to swipe the pages, for fear of what the next revelation might be. Absolutely no one was truly who they claimed to be or had done the things they said they had, or at least not in the way that they had described. This author is definitely skilled in creating imagery with her words, adding great visual depth to the story, with a real sense of time and place. Whilst maybe not enough to satisfy the ‘armchair traveller’ who might be anticipating a pleasant stop over in Norway, I could almost picture myself in the midst of a winter storm, marooned, snowed in and disabled, in a remote cabin in the middle of nowhere, with no light and no way out; prey to goodness knows what or who, as I had no way of telling friend from foe, truth from lie.
Author Alex Dahl, did an amazing job of creating an entire cast of selfish, self-centred characters who, whether or not they genuinely suffered with the many, or even any of the mental health issues they claimed, were all nonetheless pretty uncompelling, disturbing, loathsome individuals, and not one of them did I have any real empathy with, or sympathy for. Yes! They were definitely given a strong voice with which to tell their story, however it got to the stage where I simply couldn’t trust a single word which came out of any of their mouths! At best they were complex, volatile and unreliable; at their worst they were manipulative, duplicitous and malevolent. Every time I had the slightest urge to feel even slightly sorry for any one of them, within seconds they had said or done something else to have me seething and truly angry with them, all over again.
They do say that ‘revenge is a dish best served cold’, however these characters turned that saying on its head, as for each of them revenge was sweet and definitely to be savoured, no matter what the temperature. I was almost cheering when, one way or another, they had all got their comeuppance by the close of play!
What typically makes reading such a wonderful experience for me, is that with each and every book, I am taken on a unique and individual journey, by authors who can fire my imagination, stimulate my senses and stir my emotions. This storyline had the power to evoke so many feelings, that I’m sure I won’t have felt the same way about it as the last reader, nor probably the next. It really is a journey you need to make for yourself and see where it leads you!
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!