What makes a good page turner? Anyone seeking the answer needs only to devour the final fifty or so pages of Bad Apples.
Allow yourself to be drawn in – which is a hands down certainty in itself – and you will be turning pages with increasing rapidity, helpless to resist.
Desperate to know the outcome. Curbing impatience. Reining in an inevitable urge to skip ahead.
This is the third of Will Dean’s deeply atmospheric thrillers featuring deaf journalist Tuva Moodyson.
Again she is embroiled in the eerie closed-in communities of Sweden’s northern forests. A harsh land of hard-living people; hunters and shooters of moose, elk, deer and almost anything that moves.
Shoot first, ask questions later.
Almost every home harbours an arsenal of guns, knives, machetes, chainsaws and anything else that butchery requires.
Even before she reaches Gavrik, returning there to be the local paper’s deputy editor, death and darkness surround her.
She plunges into the pine forests in response to a woman’s screams for help. A treachereous diversion that ends when Tuva finds the reason for the woman’s distress – a man’s dead body.
A body minus its head. Which is later found adorning a tree stump, with all its teeth extracted.
All of which is excellent fodder for the local rumour mill that thrives on such grotesque material. A wave of Chinese whispers swirls permanently through the community of oddballs and misfits. Closely accompanied by outright accusations that ensnare a rich cast of eccentric characters, all of them scary yet believable.
Family histories are dragged into the present. Every act and word seems steeped in suspicious but credible motive. Small town rivalries are given fresh breath. Old wounds scratched open to bleed afresh.
Relentless newshound Tuva is caught in this web of intrigue as she strives to know who and what to trust other than her policewoman lover Noora, and Noora’s stolid and reliable boss. Take your pick from . . .
a clockmaker who hoards toys for the children he doesn’t have;
a woman who runs storage lockers as a front for debauched rave parties;
a couple who craft demonic models out of human and animal flesh and body parts;
a rogue dentist;
a pizza parlour owner from the killing fields of Bosnia’s war;
drifting war-gaming teenagers;
and a self-styled sheriff who rules the town as if he is in the Wild West.
And, of course, there is the forest – a perpetually dark place of menace and hostility. It looms as large as any of the other main characters. A major player in this twisting, turning thriller.
Few crime writers likely know it better than Dean. This born and bred Englishman from villages in the East Midlands lives and works in a house he built in one such Swedish forest. It is familiar terrain. He describes it in beautfully descriptive prose that minutely paints every season, all its moods and every tree, fern, bush and animal.
He also makes Tuva Moodyson one of the most likeable real crime solvers. A tough cookie with a soft centre.
But all her bravery and resourcefulness are tried to the max when she eventually unmasks the cruel wierdos responsible for the headless man and the extracted teeth.
And those final fifty pages make demands no reader of crime fiction can ignore.
A page turner of the very best.