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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Murder of Halland

Pia Juul

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To purchase The Murder of Halland

Title: The Murder of Halland
Author: Pia Juul
Genre: Novel
Written: 2009 (Eng. 2012)
Length: 147 pages
Original in: Danish
Availability: The Murder of Halland - US
The Murder of Halland - UK
The Murder of Halland - Canada
The Murder of Halland - India
Das Leben nach dem Happy End - Deutschland
L'omicidio di Halland - Italia
  • Danish title: Mordet på Halland
  • Translated by Martin Aitken

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Our Assessment:

B : penetrating variation on the mystery/thriller genre

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Guardian . 13/7/2012 Laura Wilson
The Independent . 21/7/2012 Brandon Robshaw
TLS . 3/8/2012 Christina Petrie

  From the Reviews:
  • "(T)he book is a study of the grief and shock that follow the sudden death of a loved one." - Laura Wilson, The Guardian

  • "Despite the lack of obvious suspense, you certainly don't want to stop reading, and the novel leaves you with a lingering sense of strangeness." - Brandon Robshaw, The Independent

  • "Pia Juul's acerbic short novel The Murder of Halland (...) explores the sheer oddness of trying to draw conclusions based on what people say and do. (...) Testy and unpredictable, Bess is a disconcerting study of someone who is not thinking straight. Yet her narrative voice has a compelling bluntness and immediacy." - Christina Petrie, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Murder of Halland does begin with the murder of Halland Roe, but this is not your usual Nordic crime novel -- as is perhaps already made clear by how his longtime-partner Bess, the narrator of the novel, learns of his death, answering the door not long after a noise (the shot that killed him) woke her:

     'In the name of the law !' proclaimed the bewildered-looking man on the step. His voice cracking, he raised his hand. 'It is seven forty-seven. I am arresting you for ... bear with me ...' He was out of breath.
       The man -- a caretaker at the local school -- can't even effect his citizen's-arrest, but the proper authorities do come later; while they do ask Bess whether she killed Halland (his possibly incriminating dying utterance -- the reason the caretaker was in such a rush to apprehend her - must mean something, after all), they don't really seem to suspect her and are soon on their way.
       Bess is understandably a mess after the man she's lived with for the past ten years has been killed, and her focus -- to the extent one can call it focus -- roams all over in her narrative, the only point of view we get. As far as tracking down the murderer, there is little sense of the police (or other) investigation into the killing -- and what investigation and follow-up there is for the most part takes places out of (Bess') frame, as she specifically requests not to be kept in the loop regarding the crime until there is some definitive resolution. But that's not where this is headed -- at least not in any neatly plotted police- or other- procedural way.
       Not that there isn't quite a bit of mystery in The Murder of Halland -- especially as Bess learns more about her common-law husband, and some of his recent activity. But, in her distraught state, everything seems off and wrong -- an unsettled feeling she transmits to readers, and part of what makes the novel so effective.
       The Murder of Halland is told in short chapters, most of which have an epigraph (which often reflects the content, and adds another layer to the story -- as well making for a contrast to the seemingly so natural stream of a story, a dressing it up with carefully selected (generally literary) reference as a reminder of the artificiality of the narrative). Bess careens about -- but it's worth remembering that Bess is a writer attentive to her work: even before we learn of the murder, we are told, on the book's first page, of the last editing changes she made on something she's been working on: "just moved some commas, really".
       Ten years earlier Bess left her husband for Halland, falling head over heels for him. More traumatically, she also left her then fourteen-year-old daughter, Abby; the girl didn't take her parents' break-up well, and there has been essentially no contact between mother and daughter in the past decade, devastating Bess. Much as she was entirely devoted to Halland, she's never really gotten over this, and when she has lost the love of her life:
I staggered inside and fell to the floor, where I curled up, sobbing. But I didn't think, Halland ! Oh, Halland ! I thought, Abby ! I want Abby !
       Both her former husband and Abby resurface here. Others surface too, notably the very pregnant Pernille, Halland's niece (the foster child of his sister, so in fact not related), whose existence Bess had not been aware of. Halland not only helped Pernille with her rent, he kept a room in her apartment, As if all this weren't enough for her to deal with, Bess also learns her grandafther is dying.
       The more Bess looks into Halland's actions, especially in the weeks before his death, the more surprises she finds. But in her state she can't add it quite up: "Secret pregnant nieces. Secret rooms. What kind of secret was this ?" she wonders as they keep coming. She doesn't find easy answers, confusing her even more:
     I knew everything about Halland. He was the love of my life. Did I hate him ?
       Juul's Bess is a frazzled, vivid character, overwhelmed, several times over, by conflicting emotions and deep but ruptured personal ties. Bess' life is, here, tragedy -- but The Murder of Halland veers close to the (hysterically ?) comic, too, with its absurd actors ranging from the caretaker who had wanted to arrest Bess to her former husband to Pernille, a knife's edge balancing act by Juul, who never undermines the underlying seriousness and sadness of what has happened.
       It makes for a strange but quite compelling little story, vivid in Bess' narration, yet opaque, too, as she faces so much out of her control, from what Halland didn't share with her to others who have been close to her, both in the present and past. Nicely hard-hitting, The Murder of Halland doesn't quite offer the usual crime-novel-satisfactions -- but it does offer others in their place.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 January 2016

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The Murder of Halland: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Danish author Pia Juul was born in 1962.

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