Book review: Fatal Crossing, by Lone Theils

26 08 2017

Lone Theils is a Danish journalist (stationed for much of her career in London) and crime fiction writer.

FatalCrossing

Theils’ debut novel, Fatal Crossing (Pigerne fra Englandsbåden, 2015, translated by Charlotte Barslund), features her protagonist Nora Sand. Nora is a Danish weekly-magazine journalist living in London and therefore, one presumes, modelled to some degree on Theils herself. Further titles in the Nora Sand series are planned, with a second novel already released (though not yet in translation).

Fatal Crossing kicks off with Nora’s purchase, in an English seaside secondhand shop, of a weathered leather suitcase in which she subsequently discovers a number of old polaroid photos of teenage girls, including two Danish girls whom she recognises from a decades-old missing-persons case. She subsequently realises that the name scrawled on the suitcase’s liner, presumably indicating its former owner, is the alias of a notorious serial killer whose life sentence started some years after the girls’ disappearance … Intrigued, and spotting the makings of a journalistic scoop, Nora kicks off an investigation into the girls’ last known movements, the suitcase’s history, and the possible connection with serial killer William Hickley.

Fatal Crossing is a highly impressive debut: detailed, well-paced, knowledgeable (as one would expect) on the subject of journalism and the doors which are opened (or closed) to its practitioners. Nora is a very personable principal character, resourceful, quick-thinking, sometimes misled by her instincts. She does, almost inevitably, put herself in harm’s way, but it’s a danger that’s obvious only in hindsight and therefore excusable. She also gets some very good lines of dialogue: some of the situational wordplay, in conversations, is excellent, and does not seem at all to have been damaged in translation. The other characters with whom Nora interacts over the course of the novel—such as Pete, her Aussie cameraman; Andreas, her childhood friend (now, usefully, a Danish police officer on secondment to New Scotland Yard); Bjarke Helgaard, a friend of the missing girls Lisbeth and Lulu (and now a ‘publicity officer’ for a Copenhagen motorcycle gang); Jeff Spencer, a specialist with the Metropolitan Police; and the inmate Hickley himself—are varied and well-drawn; indeed, Hickley’s backstory and list of crimes is so carefully detailed that I felt it necessary to Wikipedia him just to ensure he was a fictional creation. The evident depth of background research, informing though never clogging the narrative, is one of the book’s strengths; the only point at which I tripped over this detail was in the description, in Pete’s personal backstory, of Armadale as ‘outside Melbourne’, a statement only as true as saying that Kensington is ‘outside London’.

The story has a European, rather than distinctly Scandinavian, feel to it: it’s mainly set in the UK, though with reasonably frequent diversions to Denmark. (I found myself wondering if Theils, who left journalism, and the UK, in 2016, the year after this book’s publication, felt ‘forced out’ as a result of the Brexit referendum.) It is, in many ways, tonally similar to the ‘Nina Borg’ crime series by fellow Danish authors Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis (the first book of which, The Boy in the Suitcase, I’ve reviewed here).

Overall, this is an excellent start to what promises to be a very interesting series of mysteries.

 

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