Thursday 10 January 2013

The Murder of Halland by Pia Juul

The Murder of Halland is novella eight out of the nine that Lyndsay from Tolstoy is my Cat and I are reading as part of our Peirene Press readathon, and part of the Small Epics series.  Bess is a writer living in a small, tight-knit community with her partner Halland.  One morning she is woken by the sound of a gunshot and soon receives the news that Halland has been murdered.  The police start to investigate whilst Bess starts to grieve.  Throughout the process, Bess starts to see her neighbours, friends and family in a different light, and faces up the consequences of the decisions she has made throughout her life.

I should start this review by confessing that I'm not a fan of crime/detective fiction.  I've read a few popular crime books and some Sherlock Holmes, but I just can't get into it.  I know I'm supposed to solve the puzzle of who committed the crime but that's not how I like to read.  Sure enough, whilst reading The Murder of Halland, I didn't spend any time trying to work out who murdered Halland and consequently later events were a surprise to me.  The crime aspect of the book was well written but didn't appeal to this particular reader.  I also can't judge how much it 'dismantles the rules of an entire genre' (quote from the back cover), as I'm not familiar enough with the genre to tell.

Luckily, The Murder of Halland is much more than crime-by-numbers, it's also about grief and coming to terms with the loss of a loved one.  Many of the sections dealing with this rang very true to my own experiences.  There's one chapter in the book where Bess is supposed to go to a library to give a talk (she's a writer) and checking her emails, she finds a confirmation.  In the space of a few short sentences she goes from almost flippancy ("should I create an auto-reply saying my husband had been murdered?") to despair;

"What had I written?  I didn't want to think about work.  Perhaps I would never want to think about writing again.  That belonged to the past and it didn't matter any longer."

Grief has been like that for me too; a roller-coaster of emotions and the constant worry of whether you are grieving properly or not, whether people will judge you for smiling or for leaving the house.  I think Juul's writing will relate to the experience of most people ("If normal everyday life had resumed, the washing needed attention.") and I connected well with Bess.

So a bit of a mixed bag.  The crime sections didn't appeal but the writing was simple and heart-felt, honest about the grieving process.  If you are a crime fan, you'll enjoy this book.

Source: From the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.
Published: 2012
Score: 3.5 out of 5


  1. Hmm...this does sound interesting. I read some crime fiction, but it's not my favorite genre.

    It sounds like the book deals with grief really well though. It's such a strange thing because people go through it differently, but we have all of these expectations about how one should mourn a loss.

  2. I don't tend to read much crime fiction but enjoyed this one. It was interesting to watch what Juul was up to, picking up on clues and trying to figure out whether Bess was grieving or guilt-stricken and how she was going to live after the murder with her broken family etc. The way she and her lifestyle unravelled had me hooked. :)

  3. I enjoy crime fiction, but I prefer it when it's mixed with some other other genre- such as romantic thrillers. I'm a very big fan of explorations of human nature, I guess.
    The Murder of Halland seems pretty good, I might just pick it up sometime.

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