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Marked for Life


Marked for Life

The Nordic noir invasion of the world continues unabated. I waved my white flag of surrender years ago, choosing to immerse myself wherever and whenever possible in the weekly flow of northern European mysteries and thrillers that have been unleashed over the course of the past few years. I have a new favorite from that geographical source: Emelie Schepp and her brilliant debut novel, MARKED FOR LIFE.

The book introduces a new character you won’t soon forget in the persona of Jana Berzelius. Think, if you will, of Yrsa Sigurðardóttir’s series featuring Reykjavik lawyer Thóra Gudmundsdóttir mashed up with Stieg Larsson's Lisbeth Salander (not entirely accurate, but close enough for government work). Berzelius is a public prosecutor attached to the Norrköping, Sweden municipal area. Her introduction comes when she is attached to the police team investigating the death of Hans Juhlén, an influential government administrator whose department had been coming under heavy fire in the months prior to his passing. Juhlen is discovered murdered in his home by his wife, Kerstin. Naturally, Berzelius’ team almost immediately suspects her, not only because she is the victim’s wife (it’s almost always the spouse, isn’t it?), but also because they catch her in a number of falsehoods and inconsistencies straight from the jump.

"While the focus is on Berzelius, the unusual and finely drawn supporting cast...keeps the narrative flowing through the well-tuned and occasionally horrific plot."

That changes a bit, though, when the body of a preteen boy --- obviously the victim of a homicide --- is subsequently discovered nearby with the murder weapon by his side. His fingerprints match prints on the window of the Juhlén residence, resulting in a two-tiered investigation: Why was Hans Juhlén murdered, and who knocked off his killer? For the troubled and taciturn Berzelius, there is an equally important issue. The still-unidentified boy bears a tattoo undeniably similar to one she also has, which was administered during her early childhood, a period that she has blocked out and can only remember episodically.

Berzelius begins an off-the-books investigation on her own, one that is highly improper, unprofessional and ultimately illegal. The reader quickly learns that Berzelius does nothing by halves and is not above administering a bit of street justice when the situation calls for it. Meanwhile, the official investigation proceeds as well, uncovering a horrific crime that has been ongoing for decades. By the book’s conclusion, justice has been administered, but not for all. Not by a long shot.

MARKED FOR LIFE first appeared in Sweden in 2013 as a self-published title. It ultimately became a bestseller there and promises to do the same in the United States, thanks to the quality of the book (as well as the efforts of Schepp’s American publisher and veteran author Rod Bradbury’s fine translation). While the focus is on Berzelius, the unusual and finely drawn supporting cast --- including one extremely flawed detective who is Berzelius’ foible throughout the novel --- keeps the narrative flowing through the well-tuned and occasionally horrific plot. Two more installments of this fine series have been published in Sweden and are expected to come to the US shortly. Jump on now.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on June 16, 2016

Marked for Life
by Emelie Schepp

  • Publication Date: December 27, 2016
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Mira
  • ISBN-10: 0778319725
  • ISBN-13: 9780778319726