Which is worse, trying to catch a cunning killer leaving decapitated women in the woods, or trying to tame an unconventional forensic psychiatrist that seems determined to go his own way? The Oslo autumn is creeping in with its cold spells and Homicide Detective Julia Ryland is feeling pretty content with her team of three, but when the FBI behavioral analyst, Alexander Smith, is thrust upon her, the crisp autumn air doesn’t feel as refreshing anymore. A young Icelander is found dead, an arrow piercing his heart and the extensive list of his former lovers suggests that many long nights are ahead. The murdered lothario suddenly becomes the least of their problems as headless corpses start appearing in the woods, positioned in terrifying ways and on their bodies they find messages that don’t seem to have any meaning at all.
Loner is a Scandinavian noir novel, a type of book I’ve never read before, that promised intrigue and atmosphere. I had been looking forward to reading a creepy thriller but I found this one to be less than thrilling. I completely understood what this novel was going for but the fact that it felt like it was going for something and not succeeding impacted the reading experience.
The writing was a bit awkward. I was under the impression while reading this that it was written in English, but according to both Goodreads and Amazon, it was translated. There are no translation credits in the book itself but this explains some of the writing issues. It was written in present tense which is definitely not my favorite. Usually, tense is something that you get used to while reading and it fades into the background but instances kept popping up where I felt like I was reading a screenplay. Especially because there was the occasional time when readers would see something characters didn’t and it felt like a “zoom in” frame in a movie—for the readers’ benefit only. There was absolutely no issue with understanding the writing and it was basically normal except for the use of certain words where they were just a bit off. They weren’t used incorrectly but it came off as awkward and not casual. There were times when the descriptions were atmospheric but sometimes cliched. Also, there was a pattern of settings and people being described in detail all at once in one paragraph as soon as they were introduced. This wouldn’t have bothered me if it hadn’t happened so often and I would’ve liked to see more of the descriptions sprinkled throughout the scenes instead of info-dumping it in the beginning. Dialogue was often forced and awkward. Some conversations and scenes felt unnecessary but I appreciated how she wove in different narratives with different POVs.
The characters came off as awkward and forced as well. It seemed like they were trying to be certain types of characters while trying to avoid being stereotypes of detectives on a case. I didn’t think they were believable and I had a hard time grasping the type of personalities each had because they weren’t always consistent. Alexander could go from boisterous and confident to sheepish and unsure in a matter of moments. All except Julie lacked a professionalism required in their field. All, including Julie, didn’t come across as the experts they’re supposed to be. Interviews with witnesses were brief and brought little to no information to light and lacked the real, integral questioning any detective would conduct. I outright disliked one of the main characters, Alexander. He really got on my nerves. He was so unprofessional and childish. His reactions to things weren’t even believable reactions of a grown man, let alone those of someone who studied at Harvard and worked for the FBI. I’m not saying every person who did those things has to be a certain type of person (stoic, quiet, etc.) but someone with those credentials should know how to conduct themselves around a crime scene and with other colleagues. Also, his “expertise” as a psychiatrist and analyst of serial killers was never shown and not apparent in the ways he held himself at all. The humor throughout the book was too goofy and forced for my taste—it came off as unnatural and often made the characters seem as if they weren’t taking the murder investigations seriously enough.
This book was slow. It’s a police procedural story but there wasn’t enough to keep me hooked. Again, the recurring issue for me with this book was believability. The plot and crimes didn’t come across as well crafted and lacked the mind games and real sense of insanity/creepiness that usually comes along with a story about a serial killer. I don’t think the detectives did an efficient job questioning witnesses and Alexander was able to deduce things in no time at all. An example is when he looked at the dating app profile of a victim. The victim had talked to 118 women but he managed to narrow down the list of suspects to 21 “using [his] knowledge of the human psyche.” He then researched each of those 21 women and reduced it to 4 women who were possible suspects. He did all of this by himself in one night. That’s impossible and I can’t buy it. I don’t like the lack of process and it makes Alexander’s “knowledge of the human psyche” seem ridiculous. Also, other characters were able to deduce things in a similar way. Things just connected too easily. Even regular people seemed too quick to give information out to the killer which made his kills seem too obvious and not difficult enough. In the end, I didn’t enjoy how the crimes wrapped up. I appreciated one aspect that I can’t mention without spoiling it but the rest just didn’t make sense. I felt like the crime was explained to me at the end but none of it had unfolded over the course of the book and I still don’t fully understand how the detectives finally got to where they did in the case.
Overall, the writing wasn’t terrible and often showcased the author’s ability to create atmosphere but combined with an underdeveloped plot and characters, it made for a book that just didn’t hold my interest.
Thanks for reading,
Disclaimer: I was sent this book by the author in exchange for an honest review.