‘The Owl Always Hunts At Night’ – Holger Munch & Mia Kruger #2 by Samuel Bjørk, translated by Charlotte Barslund

I read ‘I’m Travelling Alone’, the first book in this series, back in May after letting it languish on my TBR shelves for way too long. I was pleased to find that the book had engaging characters, avoided glamorising serial killers, had a twisty plot with excellent pacing and that, if it had a core message, it was that bad things shouldn’t be allowed to happen to children and when they do, the effects last a lifetime.

I decided to read the rest of the series, partly because I liked Samuel Bjørk’s storytelling and partly because I wanted to see what would happen to Holger Munch and Mia Kruger.

There are a lot of good things in ‘The Owl Always Hunts At Night’. The premise is original, graphic and mysterious. There are moments of intense tension and the ending is both unexpected and truly spectacular. The characters are portrayed in a way that is powered by clinical insight leavened with a little empathy. One of the characters has a form of mental illness that makes him see the world so differently from the rest of us that even something as simple as going grocery shopping is fraught with risk. I loved the way that Samuel Bjørk showed me the world through this confused man’s eyes, then showed me how others would see him and then showed me that everything he said made sense but only if you understand how the man’s mind worked. I liked that the story was told by following events happening to different groups of people. It kept the narrative fresh, widened the focus beyond the investigative team, and kept me guessing about how the people and events would connect. It was a little like trying to guess the picture a jigsaw will make when you’re handed the pieces in a way that keeps the image fragmented.

I enjoyed ‘The Owl Always Hunts At Night’, but I didn’t think it worked as well as the first book Some of that was just Second Book Syndrome (the need to précis the events of the previous book, the loss of novelty, and the urge to go bigger and better on the stress and the complexity), some of it was that it seemed to me that the pacing got a bit soggy in the middle, some of it was that the explanation of the premise was a little over-elaborate. Mostly, I think it was just that the book was darker than I’d expected and that I found that darkness hard to relate to. The premise was more twisted and sadistic than I’d expected and although the worst things all happened off-screen, Samuel Bjørk made sure that my imagination filled in the blanks. I was also thrown out of the story by what seemed to me to be an unrealistically high incidence of mental illness as a mechanism for moving the plot forward. This was often done with empathy and respect but I felt there was too much of it and that. overall it relied on the mentally ill being seen as threatening in a way that they seldom are in real life.

My reaction to Mia Kruger caught me by surprise. I quite liked her in the first book. This time around, I lost all sympathy for her. I don’t think this is a weakness of the book. I think it’s one of the reactions Samuel Bjørk sets the reader up to have but it surprised me. Mia’s sustained fixation on suicidal ideation wearied me. I wanted to shout “Live. Don’t Live. It’s Your Choice. But don’t get paralysed by being unable to take the choice or make it go away.” I think wanting to shout at a character is a sign that the author has brought you fully into the world that they’ve created but it made it harder for me to relax into the book.

The ending of the book is rapid and spectacular. I felt that I’d been brought to a good conclusion and that I was still committed enough to the main characters to want to know what will happen in the next book, ‘The Boy In The Headlights’

I recommend listening to the audiobook, which is skilfully narrated by Laura Paton. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear a sample.

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