Brekke’s big-boned debut thriller, spanning two continents and 500 years, delves into the unholy connections between a pair of monstrous killings in Norway and the U.S.
Efrahim Bond’s tenure as curator in Richmond’s Edgar Allan Poe Museum is abruptly ended when someone knocks him out with a crowbar, flays him alive and only then administers the coup de grâce. Across the sea, librarian Siri Holm begins the first day in her new position at Trondheim’s Gunnerus Library by discovering the flayed corpse of Gunn Brita Dahle, her predecessor, inside a double-locked vault that’s heretofore been used only to store rare books. The two cases are clearly linked, but neither Richmond homicide detective Felicia Stone nor Chief Inspector Odd Singsaker, just back on the job after surgery to remove a brain tumor, has any clue that they are. Singsaker, who seems especially at sea, interrogates Gunn Brita’s archaeologist husband, reminds Gunnerus security chief Jon Vatten that he was once suspected of killing his own vanished wife and son, and allows himself to be seduced by another suspect. While the two sorely tried cops toil on unaware of the big break that will bring Felicia to Trondheim, Brekke provides increasingly disturbing flashbacks to the creation of the Johannes Book, a 16th-century collection of aphorisms and medical information bound in human skin, which figures in both murders. The sleuths are sympathetic and the atmosphere suitably sinister, but far too many of the shivery complications turn out to be red herrings. Agatha Christie, whose example is noted at several points, would surely have disapproved.
Grim and tense, but readers will want more payoff.