The Corpse Flower
reviewed by Matt Pechey
Pechey Ponderings | Goodreads
Having never read anything by Danish author Anne Mette Hancock, I leapt at the chance to get my hands on this, her first book published in English. The title alone pulled me in, though once I got into the story, I found other facets that kept me intrigued until the final page.
After a Danish journalist is close to losing her job, she finds herself in an awkward position. Soon thereafter, Heloise Kaldan begins receiving cryptic letters from a woman who claims to be a sought-after suspect in the slaying of a high-profile lawyer. What follows is a chance for Kaldan to piece the crime together and try learning what the elusive Anna Kiel might want with her. By the end, the chilling truth is revealed. A great debut novel and one that had me pining for more of Hancock’s work!
The autumn rains may be refreshing for the people of Copenhagen, but journalist Heloise Kaldan is too busy worrying about her future. One of her sources has been revealed to be fabricating all they offered up, making Kaldan’s reporting look not only flimsy, but completely unreliable. It’s an issue, as reporting is what Kaldan does best and it is about to be taken away from her.
While she wallows in her own self-pity, a mysterious letter arrives for Kaldan, one that she cannot fully understand. The sender, Anna Kiel, does not try to conceal herself, but rather greets the harried reporter with open arms. Kiel has been on the lam for three years, a key suspect in the murder of a lawyer back in Denmark. Hiding somewhere in France, Kiel tries reaching out to Kaldan and expresses that she is not the evil person many have made her out to be.
With little to lose and curiosity fuelling her desire for the truth, Kaldan begins poking around the murder case and tries to decipher what might have happened. Along the way, using the cryptic letters sent to her, Kaldan learns that there is more to the story than meets the eye. Throughout the sleuthing ordeal Kaldan is sidetracked when someone in whom she confides is brutally murdered. Might Kiel be sending a message not to get too close?
It is only after Heloise Kaldan travels to see her father that all the pieces come together and the truth about Anna Kiel can be discovered. The story gets highly personal and past truths about the Kaldan family come to light. While there is chaos around her, Kaldan seeks the truth and to pacify things once and for all, as if knowing it will serve as a… lullaby. A brilliant thriller that will have the reader on the edge of their seat by the end.
I quite enjoy Scandinavian thrillers and this was no exception. Anne Mette Hancock has a way of pulling the reader into the middle of the story and leaving them to piece things together. It’s a wonderful journey, filled with many tangents and learning moments. With a deeper theme running through the story, there are a number of impactful moments the reader is forced to digest, as awkward as they may be.
While it took a while for me to connect with Heloise Kaldan, I am pleased that I did. She is both a straightforward and complicated character, one that the reader will enjoy getting to know throughout the novel. Her passion for reporting comes to light, as does her thirst for the truth. However, it all comes crashing down when she discovers a family secret that her father kept, something that will surely shape Kaldan as the series progresses. I am eager to see how Hancock uses these truths to shape the protagonist moving forward.
There are a number of strong secondary characters, many of whom help prop up the story in needed ways. The police element serves to inject some needed crime solving, though Kaldan does well to uncover things on her own. There are those in the upper echelon of Danish society who offer their own truths, as well as some of those who inhabit the lower rungs of the society ladder. All are needed to provide the full picture of this complicated story. Hancock does well to bind them together in this piece, providing the reader with something well worth their time.
While I have a long history with Scandinavian crime thrillers, I would not call myself an expert. I can say that they tend to take some time to process, which could be related to the translation from their mother tongue into English. I did struggle with connecting to the narrative for the first portion of the story, feeling that it was all over the place and did not pull me in as I would have liked. However, once I got a feel for Anne Mette Hancock’s style and way of conveying things, I was intrigued. The narrative moved along well after a bumpy start and the chapters began to gather momentum, revealing truths and leaving the reader wanting more. By the end, there was that needed plot twist that turned the entire experience on its head and had me needed more information. While this is the only book published in English, I see there are a few more in the series. I hope this is rectified soon, as I am intrigued to see where Heloise Kaldan finds herself in the coming years and how this family secret might shape her future reporting.
Kudos, Madam Hancock, for a stellar debut. I cannot wait to get my hands on more of your work, just as soon as they are translated into English.