Will Dean’s debut novel elevates the Scandi noir genre with an interesting protagonist, plenty of suspense, and a shocking conclusion.
Tuva Moodyson hasn’t always lived in Gavrik, writing news articles about the craft fair in Munksfor, or the local council reducing the number of snowploughs. She used to work in London, where she was beginning a promising career at The Guardian, but her sick mother has brought her back to Sweden, and Tuva feels like she’s stagnating. When a body is found in the sprawling Utgard forest with its eyes removed, Tuva gets a chance to prove herself. Such wounds suggest the return of a terrifying serial killer from the 90s who was never caught. Is this the Medusa murderer striking again, or a creepy copycat killer? Tuva will stop at nothing to uncover this career-changing story. But Gavrik is a town of secrets, secrets which many people want to remain hidden.
“Time has stopped. It’s just me. And a freezer humming
gently in a hut. And a butchered deer. And twelve eyes.”
I’ve had Dark Pines on my shelf since its publication, but somehow hadn’t gotten around to reading it until now, long after the second instalment of the Tuva Moodyson series had been published. It’s had plenty of time to receive rave reviews and become increasingly ‘hyped up’, to the point where I was worried it wouldn’t live up to my expectations. Turns out, I had nothing to worry about. Dean’s debut had me hooked from the first page.
Having a journalist at the investigative protagonist rather than a police official isn’t an unusual approach to crime thrillers, but it’s one I personally haven’t read a lot of, so it was a refreshing change for me. Not only that, but Tuva is an amazing character. She felt so realistic to me. She feels guilt and fear, she has ambitions, and she’s kind of sassy. I really loved her character from the first few pages. Dean hints at a darker past life in London and a tragic childhood loss that adds another layer to Tuva’s character, which I hope will be explored later in the series.
Tuva has been deaf since her childhood, which obviously impacts her day-to-day life a great deal. Thus, references are frequent in the book, such as cleaning her aids or turning them off entirely to focus on her writing. However, it’s never suggested that her deafness is a hindrance and it’s great to see such positive deaf representation in a novel. Tuva is also pan- or bi-sexual, though this aspect of her character is less prominent than her deafness, mentioned only in passing a couple of times. It’s not really all that relevant to the story, so the only-minor mentions were fitting and felt organic. It was refreshing and not to mention realistic to have a queer character whose queerness wasn’t the centre of the story.
The Swedish setting was one of my favourite aspects of the novel. It has everything you’d expect from a Scandi crime thriller; snow, forests, long and dark nights. There were added references that made it feel very rooted in Sweden. You couldn’t up and move this novel to Norway, for example, and have it work perfectly without changing some of those cultural reference points. I lived in Sweden for a year during my undergraduate degree, so the little mentions of ICA, Marabou chocolate, strict laundry days and systembolaget made me very nostalgic for my time abroad. I found myself waiting for Tuva to take a trip to Max, Sweden’s much tastier answer to McDonald’s that does the best vegan burger and the smoothest milkshakes, but it never happened. I loved everything else in this novel so much that I guess I can let it slide. Maybe there’s no Max in Dean’s fictional town of Gavrik?
The narrative was really well paced and so full of suspense that I devoured this book in a couple of days. It felt like every chapter ended with a cliffhanger, making it impossible to put down. Normally by around the half-way mark, I think I have a good idea of who the killer might be, even if I end up being totally wrong, but with Dark Pines I really had no clue. I didn’t suspect anyone, which made it even creepier – everyone seemed so perfect, who out of these characters could possibly be committing acts so monstrous?! I let out a few audible gasps in the later chapters of the novel as things began to slot into place and the killer was revealed, which is always a good sign of how completely I am sucked into a book.
This is an incredibly strong debut from Will Dean. Its sequel, Red Snow, has leapt to the top of my TBR and I can’t wait to find out what Tuva ends up investigating next.
Rating: 5 / 5 stars