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by Jørgen Brekke and Steven T. Murray, trans.
Minotaur Books, February 2014
368 pages
ISBN: 1250016800

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Early in WHERE MONSTERS DWELL, a character who collects mysteries discusses their plot structure. She refers to a "rule of three," according to which the first third of a mystery introduces the perpetrator, the second third endeavors to divert attention from the murderer, and the final third brings the murderer back into focus. Jørgen Brekke follows this narrative structure in the complex plot of WHERE MONSTERS DWELL as he weaves threads from a murder at the Edgar Allen Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, with those from a similar murder in Trondheim, Norway. In addition to this geographical diversity, Brekke moves the action back and forth between the 16th century and the present.

In both Richmond and Trondheim, within a matter of a few weeks, a murderer kills and flays his victims, removing their skin and their heads. Why such a thing should happen slowly becomes clear as it is discovered that a book bound with human skin plays a role in both libraries where the murders occur. The story behind that book takes the reader on a historical journey to the 16th century when anatomical knowledge was increasing through the practice of dissection and even vivisection. At first, the detectives in each location labor alone without knowledge of the murders across the Atlantic, but a tie is made and Richmond's homicide investigator, Felicia Stone, travels to Norway to join forces with Norway's police detective, Odd Singsaker.

This is the first book in a series, and Brekke develops the main characters in depth. Felicia Stone comes to police work after a tough battle with drugs as an adolescent. The cause for her drug use is also tied tangentially to the story surrounding the murders. Odd Singsaker is just back on the force after having a brain tumor removed, and he knows several of the suspects through previous police work and as neighbors. The solution to the crime provides a new start for both Singsaker and Stone. Throughout much of the book, especially the middle third, virtually everyone who is not a member of law enforcement is a suspect, but Brekke does not short-change the full character development of those suspects. Each person introduced in the book is a nuanced character, and it is possible to see each as either guilty or innocent.

The book ends on a surprisingly upbeat note for one that is so dark and violent throughout. Although this is the first published in the English, Brekke has written two more in the Odd Singsaker series, so I am hopeful that the others will be published in English soon and that, since the series is ongoing, more will be forthcoming.

§ Sharon Mensing is the Head of School of Emerald Mountain School, an independent school in the mountains of Colorado, where she lives, reads, and enjoys the outdoors.

Reviewed by Sharon Mensing, December 2013

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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