Friday 30 September 2011

Book review : Death Sentence - Mikkel Birkegaard

As I told you a while ago (here), I'm taking part in the Transworld Reading Challenge. After reading the brilliant novel The Sandalwood Tree (which I reviewed here), I picked a very different style of book for my second read and chose Mikkel Birkegaard's Death Sentence. (If any of you have read it, please link through to your review in the comments - I'd love to compare notes.)

I love crime fiction and thought the plot sounded very original, not to mention full of suspense. The main character, Frank Fons, is a successful crime writer, producing not so much pulp fiction as beat-them-to-a-pulp fiction. His trademark is his brutal, graphic portrayal of hideous torture and murder, so he is horrified when people close to him start turning up murdered in reenactments of killings from his novels.

We become caught up in a gruesome game of cat and mouse, with the killer and writer both toying with each other and the horrifically mutilated body count rising by the minute. Frank is an enigmatic character so it's hard to work out if he's a good guy or a bad guy. His ex-wife seems to think of him as a dangerous, mentally-unbalanced possible fantasist so we don't even know if we should count him as a suspect.

I read a lot of crime fiction and don't consider myself as squeamish at all but I did feel disturbed by the sheer violence of some of the crimes and the graphic detail that the writer (Fons but also Birkegaard) goes into. To give you just one example, but there are many more - when I first read the line "raped with a book", my initial instinct was that it was impossible. Reading the gory, detailed description of the body when this crime was reenacted left me feeling sickened. The final scenes of the novel, while certainly imaginative and powerful, were just too full-on for me and I actually skipped the last few pages. For me, the genre tips from crime fiction over into horror, which I feel uncomfortable with.

The lack of definite ending left me feeling unsatisfied too, and not just because I'd skipped over the final bloodthirsty scenes. I was left with many unanswered questions which irritated me after having put in the effort of sitting squirming through so many painfully grotesque scenes of torture and violence to get there.

It's not for the faint-hearted but if you imagine a crime novel written by the likes of Stephen King, you'll know more or less what to expect.

star rating : 3/5

‘I’m part of the Transworld Book Group!’
RRP : £7.99

Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Black Swan (15 Sep 2011)
Language English
ISBN-10: 0552776807
ISBN-13: 978-0552776806

Other reviews you may be interested in :


  1. I love crime fiction. Will look out for this. Great price on Amazon!

  2. You said it exactly. I just finished reading it (after skimming over the last few pages - how horrifying that last chapter is) and am still scratching my head over the who the killer was in the end. Any guesses?

    1. I read this a long time ago so I can't remember but I know it was left very open.

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