Where Monsters Dwell (Odd Singsaker)
by Jørgen Brekke
Translated by Steven T. Murray;
Cover Artist: The Damned Souls in Hell by Luca Signorelli, 1499-1504,
5th Century Fresco © Mondagori Portfolio/Getty Images;
Bridge and River © Giorgio Magin/istock.com;
Man in Tunnel © Voya Pomortzeff/Almy
Review by Joseph B. Hoyos
Minotaur Books Paperback ISBN/ITEM#: 9781250060808
Date: 13 January 2015 List Price $15.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
This review originally ran in our March 2014 issue and is of the hardcover edition.
At the Edgar Allan Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia, Efrahim Bond is attacked with a crowbar while he is sitting in his office. Later, his skinned torso is found in the Enchanted Garden with a bust of Edgar Allan Poe tied to the stump of his neck; his head is found in his office's trashcan. Weeks later, at the Gunnerus Library in Trondheim, Norway, Gunn Brita Dahle is found dead inside a vault containing ancient books. Her torso has been decapitated and its skin removed.
Both murders have been influenced by the Johannes Book, which chronicles the life of a mad priest of Trondheim, Norway, and has been bound with human skin. This relic from the 1500s has been stolen from the vault at the Gunnerus Library. Inspector Felicia Stone of Richmond travels to Trondheim to help Chief Inspector Odd Singsaker find the psychotic killer before he/she strikes again.
Jørgen Brekke's Where Monsters Dwell is one of the most gruesome, intriguing mysteries I have read in a very long time. I can understand why it has received international acclaim. It was like reading three highly interesting novels in lieu of one. The plot deftly alternated between Richmond and Trondheim and between present Trondheim and Medieval Trondheim. The heinous crimes in the present are being influenced by heinous crimes that were committed in the 1500s--crimes that were depicted in a diary written by a mad monk and called the Johannes Book.
Before he was a mad monk, Johannes was an innocent young boy who suffered at the hands of his cruel, evil master; one can't help but feel pity for him. The main character in Richmond is Felicia Stone who was sexually abused by a classmate, became a drug addict, and was eventually able to turn her life around. The main character in Trondheim, Odd Singsaker, survived the removal of a large brain tumor that affected his long-term memory. Flawed but persistent, Felicia and Odd make a great detective team.
Like a classic piece of artwork, Where Monsters Dwell is a rare gem that will appeal to most mystery readers. There is the macabre element. Edgar Allan Poe is synonymous with macabre. His life and death were mysteries. He was the epitome of strangeness. The murders at the Edgar Allan Poe Museum and the Gunnerus Library are extremely macabre. They are compared to the murders committed by real-life serial killer Ed Gein who wore his victims' skins.
The murderer in Where Monsters Dwell is also obsessed with wearing his/her victims' skins. He/she has been extremely influenced by the Johannes Book. Once again, the media is proved to be very influential, whether in book or in celluloid form. The killer was able to hide his/her identity until the novel's gruesome ending that left me depressed and chilled. If you enjoy watching classic horror films from the 1970's, such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Deranged, and Frightmare, then you will enjoy the horror elements in Where Monsters Dwell.
I am a huge fan of all of the following: Edgar Allan Poe, both the man and his horror short stories; Ed Gein and the numerous horror films based on his life (primarily Psycho and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre); and Agatha Christie. One of the supporting characters in Trondheim, Siri Holm, is obsessed with Agatha Christie. I, like Siri, have read most of Christie's novels. Siri does an excellent job of explaining the diversity of killers Christie used to deceive the reader, such as children, narrators, and detectives. The killer is most often identified as a minor character within the first one-third of the novel and then quickly forgotten or concealed until their identity is revealed in the final chapters.
I agree with Siri that the author works hard to conceal the identity of the murderer and make readers believe it is someone else. Where Monsters Dwell follows the same formula as an Agatha Christie novel. It has plenty of suspects and red herrings. It also has some touching romance, especially between the two leads, Felicia Stone and Odd Singsaker. I would love to see this pair of sleuths in another gruesome mystery spanning two continents. Fans of exotic locales will also appreciate this novel for its frosty Norwegian setting.
Where Monsters Dwell explores the human psyche, both its delicacy and its resiliency. Sometimes, because of events beyond our control, the psyche is severely damaged to the point that it cannot be repaired. Consequently, a human monster is created. Whether it is from five-hundred years ago, from across the ocean, within our own neighborhood, or beneath our bed, human monsters have always existed and can be found anywhere. Regardless of where they dwell, I better not find a monster attempting to snatch the next Jørgen Brekke novel out of my hands, or I'll skin it alive.