Sissel-Jo Gazan is back with another dark Scandinavian crime thriller sure to pique the interest of her fans and curious readers alike. Using her individual flavour, Gazan infuses a strong scientific aspect into the crime and the overall narrative, while not bogging the story down in either regard. Early in the narrative, the reader learns that the University of Copenhagen is abuzz when Immunology Professor Kristian Storm is found dead in his office, having apparently hanged himself. His most promising graduate student and research assistant, Marie Skov, is devastated and cannot fathom why he would take such drastic measures. Skov is, herself, dealing with a recent battle with breast cancer and the death of her mother, two significant events that weave their way through the story. After significant backstory, the reader better understands that Storm and Skov had been hard at work on some immunology research that had been highly controversial, in which they posit that the vaccines being given to African children have significant side effects and/or immunological deficiencies that can be attributed to higher death rates among the population, specifically in Guinea-Bissau. Additionally, someone in the highly-competitive research community flagged the research to a Danish scientific disciplinary board for review and potential sanctions, which was the basis for Skov’s dissertation. Meanwhile, the reader is reintroduced to Søren Marhauge, now a Deputy Chief Superintendent on Copenhagen’s Police Force. Tired of the bureaucratic red tape and wanting to focus on his relationship with his girlfriend and her daughter, Marhauge resigns to focus on his home life, However, when Anna (of acclaim in Gazan’s debut novel) returns home one day with news of the Storm suicide, Marhauge finds that he wants to continue sleuthing, if only a little. As the story progresses, Gazan explores more of the controversies that Storm found during his time in Guinea-Bissau and how the World Health Organization found the generalized comments highly problematic. Additionally, there is trouble brewing within Skov’s family, including a secret that had been covered up for almost three decades. Will Marhauge be able to find reason to contradict the determination that Storm took his own life in disgrace? How might Skov’s discovery of her own family’s drama shape the way she moves forward? Gazan seeks to address these and many other issues in her methodically well-paced story that forces the reader to pay close attention throughout. Not for the reader who loves a quick thrill ride, Gazan seeks to shake up the Scandinavian thriller genre by attracting those who are patient and pensive in equal measure.
Gazan is a new addition to my reading list, but I can see how she might appeal to a certain type of reader. Her work is detailed, at times too much so for my still-adapting mind, and seeks to slowly develop her story and characters. While Søren Marhauge and Anna are back, their development is not as central to the story’s main plot. It is of great interest to those who liked the first novel to see just how far they have progressed together, as well as how sturdy their relationship has become. Marie Skov and her family take centre stage in this novel, becoming complex characters, each with their own backstories. With a number of strong characters pushing the narrative forward, the premise of the book is again a highly interesting, yet academic, venture. To posit that vaccinations used on the African continent might prove more harmful than helpful is highly scandalous, at a time when such a great scientific breakthrough seems to have revolutionized pandemics. However, with large pharmaceutical companies making millions off the production of these serums, it is no wonder that Kristian Storm could be vilified for his hypothesis. Gazan pulls the reader throughout the discussion and tries to explain it in such a way that the story is not lost on the scientific amateur (among whom I could myself). She balances it well but does not skimp on the blunt conversations in the field, which educates the reader in a persuasive manner. There is much to be said of Gazan, who differs greatly from her Scandinavian counterparts, in this second novel. Her storytelling is superior and her ability to paint a dark story while not deterring readers is worth mention as well.
Kudos, Madam Gazan for showing that you are not a one-hit wonder. I hope you will keep writing and dazzling fans with your unique style and approach to non-English thrillers, whose translation still pack a significant punch.