Friday, 20 January 2017

Book review : Medusa - Torkil Damhaug

I'd never heard of Torkil Damhaug but according to the front cover, he is an international bestseller and Medusa is one of the Oslo Crime Files series. I went to investigate and discovered that, written in 2015, Medusa was the first book in the series and there are now two more, Death By Water and Fireraiser, both published in 2016.

The story introduces us to Axel Glenne, who is apparently a well-liked doctor, happily-married family man and conscientious son, who regularly visits his mother who has Alzheimer's and mistakenly calls him Brede - that's not necessarily a sign of her failing mental health though, as Brede is Axel's identical twin and banished black sheep of the family that nobody likes to mention.

When two dead women are discovered, apparently mauled by a wild animal that would appear to be a bear, police investigate to see if there are suspicious circumstances - finding a wild bear in this urban part of Norway is highly unlikely after all. The only link that they can find is Axel, who was one of the last people to speak to both of the victims. He becomes the prime suspect but is convinced that he is being framed by his vengeful twin - the only problem is, nobody except his senile mother has ever met him or even seen a photo of him. 

As Alex tries to prove his innocence, even the reader ends up questioning the existence of this missing twin. Does Axel have a split personality? Is he really a serial killer? Or is he a part of some big Machiavellian plan?

For the first part of the book, I thought this had the makings of a taut, gripping psychological thriller, with the author skilfully playing with the reader's interpretations and suppositions. The constant doubt over whether or not Brede exists and, if he does, wondering what the big family drama was that led to his banishment, added an extra level of enjoyment for the reader, forcing him to step back and psychoanalyse Axel and his motives.

However, as the plot developed, I found that the tension started to fizzle out. Axel's dubious moral choices tarnish our view of him and make it harder for us to empathise with him and I found the final denouement to be unfulfilling because it is a bit flimsy and improbable. I also kept thinking of the famous Shakespearean stage direction "Exit, pursued by a bear" which was even deemed farcical when the Bard wrote it !

It was readable but I felt that the middle section dragged and the ending left me wanting more, which was a shame, because the idea of an unknown identical twin letting his brother take the rap for his crimes had great promise.

star rating : 3.5/5

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Headline (8 Oct. 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1472206835
  • ISBN-13: 978-1472206831

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