A Presence Of Absence by Emma Vestrheim & Sarah Surgey
The Odense Series is a new Nordic Noir/Brit Crime series that blends humanist stories and family drama with gritty crime in the central Danish city Odense.
British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to hit rock bottom in his home life and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has seen in many years.
The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants.
When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the case, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?
Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.
With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.
This is a British/Danish set crime thriller. The novel opens with an eerie prologue & with chapter one we meet Simon Weller, London based cop. Dealing with the grief of his wife’s suicide, Simon is having a hard time avoiding the attention of his (now adult) children. Simon’s family is made up of his son Thomas, smothering daughter Sanne and shifty son-in-law Michael. Feeling the intense pressure of Sanne micro-managing his life & developing an alcohol problem Simon flees to the birthplace of his wife, he flees to Odense.
Odense is a small town in Denmark, birthplace of Hans Christian Andersen the writer. Whilst Simon grieves for his wife Vibeke, the local busybody finds a dead woman hanging from a lamppost. The discovery draws striking comparisons to Simon’s own wife’s suicide & he begins to wonder was it suicide? Or was it murder? Unbeknown to the reader, Simon has already quit his police job in the UK & had planned on working with the Danish Funen police. Simon knows little in the way of the language but has extensive police training, so he is paired with (failing at life) cop Jonas.
The police characters are very well written and I love that the authors added diversity with a cop in the form of Detective Romain an Afghan migrant. I really wish he had been more prevalent to the storyline. The novel is very atmospheric and although it is my first Danish crime novel read, it won’t be my last.
Back to the plot, the woman found hanging is uncovered to be Elsbet Sorenson. Daughter to the wealthiest family in central Denmark. The police chief is personal friends to the family & they are well known within Odense. Upon further inspection the body is found to have a mouth stuffed with hay. But who would want to kill the harmless, dedicated local school teacher?
Elsbet had a Swedish Ex-boyfriend Hektor & a messy complicated relationship. Was she killed in a love triangle gone wrong? Or is it something more sinister?
In London, Simon’s children aren’t coping with their dad’s departure. Sanne is relentless in her attempts to control Simons assets. Thomas meanwhile, grows suspicious of brother-in-law Michael. The tension from London is interwoven into the story & keeps you guessing on how it is relevant to the main plot. It is very well done.
With another body discovered in Odense, Simon has his work cut out for him. The body is a local retiree named Erik. Found hanging from a lamppost, He also has ties to the school and it becomes obvious this is the link they were looking for. Funen Dragskole is the local boarding school and through further investigation, we discover Elsbet had recently become stressed, erratic and out of character. Also found with the drug Prozac in her system, things are not adding up. Simon & Jonas finally form a bond and become a true police partnership. But is it enough? Can they solve this complex case?
In the back drop Sanne makes her way to Denmark!
Slow in the beginning due to laying the foundations of this duo location story. The case now continues at rapid pace. With Odense holding secrets of the past & the local residents not so forth coming. Simon & Jonas must work as a team. Chapter 33 is written from the perspective of Elsbet 3 months earlier, as a series of diary entries. This really adds to the novel and as the reader it offers up the chance to see the situation from the perspective of those involved. After all, don’t we all have secrets?
I found this novel to be tense & unpredictable. The ending is packed with deep emotional pain, that had me reading with my hand over my forehead shaking my head as I read the words. I love the concept of Britain/Denmark as locations and certainly hope there is more in this series! 4*
Q) For readers new to you, can you explain a little bit about yourselves and your background?
A) I am a freelance writer who has specialised in Nordic culture, arts and the literary world for the past few years. I ran Nordophile.com which showcased Nordic cultural events, more recently I interviewed and featured many prolific Nordic authors. I still freelance and in between looking after my 4 daughters, I have finally moved on to my own book writing!
Emma is also a writer but primarily she is the editor for her magazine, Cinema Scandinavia. She attends many film festivals and interviews Nordic actors, screenwriters and directors.
I live in the UK with my family and Emma, although Australian, now resides in Norway with her husband.
Q) I love the concept of having a novel written between Denmark & Britain. But how difficult is this in the writing? Does being a writing partnership help?
A) We both come from a background of reviewing and promoting Nordic books and films so when we decided to both get together and write our own, this was the route we wanted to go down. But, we wanted to add something slightly different as we felt personally that it would add a different dimension. Being British I wondered how well Brit crime would work alongside Nordic Noir, it did, so The Odense Series was born!
Q) The Presence of Absence is a brilliant debut; it offers up something new & unique to the reader. Will there be more in the series? Will we meet with Simon & Jonas again?
A) Oh, yes, definitely! We spend a good part of the book in the beginning developing our characters. This was intentional because we knew we were wanting to produce a series rather than just a stand-alone book. We want our readers to ‘really’ know the characters and feel for them. We want our books to play out in their minds and we think by the end of the book the reader will be genuinely wanting to know what happens next for them.
Simon, Jonas (our British/Danish detectives) are going to be featured throughout our series and many of the characters around them.
Our second book ‘The Enlightened’ carries on with the fall out in London, the after crime in Odense and sees a fresh case taking our detectives to a very gritty case up in the most northerly part of Norway where Norse mythology and murder links back to Odense.
Q) One thing I loved in the novel was the characterisation. Everyone was complex, had inner fears/anxieties. Which made it so realistic. There were no clichés, people responded to situation in exactly the same way they would in real life. How did you come up with the individual characters?
A) We had done quite a bit of early stage writing when we realised how much we were dealing with grief from our characters, on different levels and with different reactions. We didn’t want this thread to be haphazard and really wanted to give justice to the grief and humanistic stories
Q) Prior to reading this novel, I had never heard of Odense and unfortunately haven’t been so lucky as to visit Denmark yet. I am sure I wasn’t the only reader to google image search Odense. It looks absolutely beautiful & picturesque. What made you decide that it would make the perfect location?
A) Denmark was our first thought for which Nordic country we would set it in. We didn’t want Copenhagen as we thought that has been done and would be too obvious. I had featured the Hans Christian Andersen Festival in Odense for a magazine the year before and as myself and Emma started to look at other Danish cities we realised that the link to this great literary great was too good to not thread in. HCA features in our story running parallel to a young boy whose only escape is HCA books.
Q) With regards to writing/reading, who are your inspirations? What are your favourite novels?
A) We are both quite eclectic, I think. I could quite easily sit and read Nordic noir books back to back as I could British crime, factual stories or travel inspired books. I love books, bookstores and libraries as a whole. They say “a room without books has no soul” and I agree!
About the authors:
Sarah Surgey is a 36 year old British feature writer for various magazines. She lives in the UK with her husband and 4 daughters.
She has had an interest in all things Nordic for many years and has written about many genres within this subject for publication. Although British, she has Danish family and enjoys exploring Denmark and its culture whenever the opportunity arrives.
Sarah was brought up with crime books and inevitably has always had crime story scenarios going around inside her head. After interviewing many famous authors for different magazines within the Nordic literary circle and always knowing the answer to her question of “why did you start writing?” she felt now was her time to get her stories out there, for people to read!
Emma Vestrheim is the owner and editor-in-chief of Cinema Scandinavia, a Nordic film and television journal that analyses popular Nordic titles. Part of her work includes working with directors, actors and filmmakers, and her numerous interviews with the biggest names in Nordic film and television have given her a privileged access to what makes Nordic narratives so successful. Cinema Scandinavia publishes bimonthly and is available in major Nordic film libraries.
Twitter: @OdenseSeries and @EmmaVestrheim