Child abuse is one of the disturbing themes here, and, like so much Nordic noir, it should be noted that this is not a book for the squeamish or for those who favour the cosier end of crime. The narrative slowly and surely exerts an inexorable grip; its multiple timeframes do not interrupt the unerring building of tension. And, as with the best of Scandinavian crime fiction, there is still room for an acute element of social commentary ... If you’re not fazed by the daunting length and unsparing gruesomeness of The Crow Girl, you will find it to be among the most wide-ranging and forceful Scandinavian crime novels you have encountered.
[The Crow Girl is] very likely to be the most disturbing book you’ll read all year ... There’s a fantastic twist in store, very well executed, and a successful conclusion for the complex web of evil Sund weaves over the course of the novel. His Sweden, too, is pitch perfect and the sheer over-the-top awfulness of it all is clearly recognised by the author ... But the level of abuse in The Crow Girl and the pace of its revelations are relentless. Sund’s story coils its way into ever darker places, with everything from cannibalism to the Holocaust making an appearance in a novel that stretches to almost 800 pages.
I’m a callused reader. There’s not much that bothers me. But I felt exhaustedly repulsed by The Crow Girl. The graphic depictions of sexual violence — much of it directed at children — kept piling up until I had to go for a run in the sun or race to the multiplex to watch Finding Dory, anything to dilute the nastiness ... The Crow Girl made me want to wash my eyes out with bleach before leaping off the nearest skyscraper.
These women and the serial killings that connect them provide the basis for a strong if overly gruesome plot. The sexual abuse of children is among the most despicable of crimes, and the authors deserve praise for addressing it candidly. Unfortunately, they have filled their novel with so many instances of rape, sadism, torture and murder that the reader is overwhelmed ... Amid all these plot threads, in a very long novel, dimly remembered names keep popping up, and we struggle to recall if they are victims, abusers, police or innocent bystanders ... The detective, mother of a young son, is the book’s moral center, and her rage is understandable. But the authors should have focused their material far more carefully so that we could read their story, however sordid, with understanding if not always with pleasure.
Sund is relentless in scraping away at both physical and psychological wounds, leaving us with scenes and images that may make you leave the room: 'the wave of sour sweat as his pants fall to the floor.' Ultimately, The Crow Girl — the first entry, I hasten to point out, in a trilogy — is unable to keep up with itself. Various stretches sag. But fired up by moral concerns, this book's engine never stops humming.
Readers rapidly encounter familiar motives and enemies, including historical secrets, eastern European gangsters and the molestation and murder of children... always feels a daunting read and never climbs completely clear of its generic ancestors ... The Crow Girl, in Neil Smith’s translation, never feels badly written, but its determination to be realistically horrific - including gruesome descriptions of sexual mutilation, medical intervention and posthumous decomposition - may deter some readers.
The Crow Girl is a commitment, a doorstop, and a nearly endless psychological puzzle box that creepily crawls from one dysfunctional arena to the next, leaving clues not like breadcrumbs but like bloody bits of ear and entrails. It’s a novel for the committed Scandophile—or those that should be committed.