The Night Ferry (Konrad Simonsen #5), by Lotte and Søren Hammer

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Lotte and Søren Hammer, and Bloomsbury Publishing for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

Another intriguing novel in the Konrad Simonsen series that sees many twists baffle the reader from the opening paragraphs. When a mysterious man slips onto a canal boat, he appears to have a mission. By murdering many of the adults on board, he seems pleased to slip away by plunging into the water. Seeing the small boat in distress, a larger ferry approaches, but is unable to its course, adding to the carnage. Chief of Homicide Konrad Simonsen and his team are assigned the case, soon rattled when they learn that one of their own is amongst dead. With sketchy witness statements and video coverage of the canal boat’s time on the water, Simonsen zeros in on one man with a past in Denmark’s military services as a likely suspect. Extrapolating the service record of one Bjørn Lauritzen, the Homicide Squad notice that he spent time in Serbia and Bosnia during the mid-90s, a time when the Yugoslav Civil War was in full-swing. Lauritzen’s apparent contact in Denmark may have helped grease the wheels for numerous horrible acts against a cultural minority, something the military will not discuss and stonewalls when it comes to offering up any documentation, even at the highest levels. Simonsen moves quickly to push his investigation to its limits and is able to garner a significant amount of evidence, ensuring the case goes before the courts. Once the legal process commences, there are some loopholes left open and the outcome is anything but certain. Simonsen cannot let this killer slip through his fingers, but the evidence speaks for itself. Might there be another way to ensure justice is served? The Hammer siblings are known for their dark and highly confusing thrillers and this is one of the best. Fan of the series will flock to this, hoping to sift through much of the intense narrative and see Konrad Simonsen rise to the occasion once again.

While I am no Scandinavian police procedural or dark thriller expert, I have read my share over the last number of years. Of all the authors I have encountered, Lotte and Søren Hammer are surely the most convoluted and tangential in their delivery, while keeping the story impossible to put down. While some may dislike this style of writing, much of the story develops under the surface and the attentive reader can adjust to extract all they need to help piece together the elements of the crime. Konrad Simonsen is often front and centre in the series, with his development usually building as the narrative progresses. However, Simonsen seems almost to hover and remain stagnant (at least as it relates to character revelations) in this piece, allowing some of his other Homicide Squad to grow. With the loss of one member, there is a void left in the team and certain individuals flirt with the possibility of being added in subsequent novels. The plot itself is serpentine, beginning with the murder aboard the boat but soon pushing away, as though this local killing spree is only a cover for the larger story. The Hammers do not refute this, as the story morphs into something all about the murderous rampages in the Yugoslav Civil War, though it is the nuances and connections to other countries that keeps the reader intrigued. I applaud the Hammer siblings for this tangent, as it offered up more intrigue than a local mystery might have done, forcing many characters to expand their powers beyond that of the streets within Copenhagen. There seems to be some social commentary woven into the narrative, such that the reader can parse through what is being said and take a stand for themselves. I found it quite interesting, though I can see how some readers might prefer an ‘A to Z’ story whose focus is the slain group aboard the canal boat rather than in the Eastern parts of Europe. I can see that there is much to be done by the Hammer siblings and can only hope the series has enough steam to keep churning out wonderful books.

Kudos, Madam and Mister Hammer, for another wonderful novel. I can see that translation into English has not lessened the impact of your work and hope its quality remains high.

A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge:

The Lake (Konrad Simonsen #4), by Lotte and Søren Hammer

Eight stars

First and foremost, a large thank you to NetGalley, Lotte and Søren Hammer, and Bloomsbury USA for providing me with a copy of this publication, which allows me to provide you with an unbiased review.

The Hammer siblings return with another novel in their highly successful Konrad Simonsen series, recently translated in English. With the dark undertones of a well-crafted Scandinavian thriller, the story pushes the reader to the limits, while also leaving them demanding more! As the story opens, three individuals are travelling through the forested areas of Denmark, as if on a mission. Dense trees and shadowy lanes lead to a secluded cabin, where something sinister is about to happen. A young African woman is led to the cabin and a crime committed. However, something goes wrong and she dies. Her body is tied to a large stone and left to sink in the middle of the lake, where nature takes its course. It is only when parts of her are found months later than the authorities arrive, eventually creating national headlines for bumbling the case. Konrad Simonsen and his Homicide Team are called in from Copenhagen to take over, while media outlets continue to feast off some of the bad press that has sullied the case to this point. Slow and methodical, Simonsen begins to explore what may have happened and tries to put a face to the victim, which is harder than it seems. From there, it is trying to locate a missing person report or some way of tying this woman to a social network. No leads leave Simonsen and the rest of the team scrambling. However, there are some concrete solutions that come out of the cabin and its surrounding area, which takes the Homicide team into the dark world of rape and eventually the seedy domain of sex trafficking. Meanwhile, the perpetrators hide away in plain sight, protecting the vast empire that keeps the world of sex trafficking in business. Someone reaches out and begins a blackmail scheme, as though they are fully aware of the horrible things that are going on and wish to bring about their own form of revenge. While Simonsen gets closer to an answer, questions arise as to how this could all be tied together and how deep the trafficking goes. Is it just the depraved that come to the well and seek this form of gratification or are there others, more ‘mainstream’ faces that dabble, as long as the price is fair? There is no justice for the victim and no family that mourn her, but Simonsen will stop at nothing until the culprits are caught and face the ultimate price. The only question is, does he have the determination to keep going? A powerful thriller that pulls the reader into a dark corner and explores sex trafficking at its most deplorable, but with so much social commentary that the reader will not be able to help but join the conversation. Perfect for those who want a deeper and more complex story in a game of cat and mouse.

I have long been a fan of the Hammers and their delightfully dark thriller series. As I have said numerous times, reading Scandinavian thrillers takes the story to an entirely new level, with complex storylines and thoroughly intriguing ideas that are handled with aplomb and a depth with which I do not find in North American novels. Add to that, the translation that is required to bring me an English language version. If things remain at such a high calibre outside of the story’s original language, I can only imagine how powerful they are in the original Danish. The Hammer siblings also push the story further by using their well-honed collection of characters, each with their own backstory. Konrad Simonsen continues to lead the group, though has to struggle with some of his own past issues and the restructuring that his team has undergone, both due to his own issues and a case that went horribly wrong and left one member on the brink of disaster. Simonsen uses all he has to take the story in ways that the reader cannot help but follow, though they are fully aware of the flaws that the character possesses. As with many of their novels, there is a strong social commentary threaded into the story, which adds a dimension that cannot be missed. Be it the sex trafficking industry, the covert use of au pairs from another part of the world, or even the fact that some of the upper crust in Denmark are using this service without batting an eye. The Hammer siblings also pull in the discussion of shifting the blame on ‘paid sex’ away from the prostitute and solely onto the john, which seems to be happening in some of the surrounding countries. It leaves the reader with much to contemplate and perhaps shed the past concerns over the issue before delving into open-air discussions with others. These are strong issues and should be addressed, which are also handled in a serious and forthright manner by the authors. There is no better way to entertain and educate than to place a story on such precarious places and the Hammer siblings do it so well.

Kudos, Mr. and Madam Hammer for another sensational story. I know we English folk are still a few novels behind your Simonsen series, but I am eager to get my hands on more, as you push things to the limit and force me (and other readers) to confront some of the seedier aspects of life.