SLOWLY WE DIE by Emelie Schepp
CBTB Rating: 3.75/5
The Verdict: medical thriller “popcorn reading” with a Nordic backdrop
Emelie Schepp is a self-made success story. The author of the Jana Berzelius series has made a name for herself in her native Sweden, and around the world, through her tireless work ethic. Schepp self-published her debut novel, MARKED FOR LIFE, and went on to break records for self-published book sales in Sweden. Now an internationally-bestselling author, Schepp delivers her newest thriller to American audiences this June. SLOWLY WE DIE may be part of the Jana Berzelius series, but much of this book reads like a stand-alone. Shifting focus away from Jana’s personal backstory and towards a new - and chilling - case, SLOWLY WE DIE will be largely accessible to readers who have never dipped into this series before—though those who know the backstory behind Jana and her nemesis Danilo will naturally appreciate the more personal elements of this new series installment best. Perhaps most interesting, though, is the decision by Schepp to take her Nordic thriller away from the traditional layered plotting and slow-burn pacing of Scandinavian crime, and towards a more commercial, brisk tone. With crimes plaguing the medical community at the center of this story, fans of medical thrillers by Tess Gerritsen and Patricia Cornwell are likely to be the audience best suited to Schepp’s story of decades-old vendettas in Sweden.
AN ACCIDENTAL SLIP OF A BLADE…
A tragic incident on the operating table leaves a patient damaged for life and leads a young surgeon to abandon his profession as a physician… Now, years later, a series of senseless, gruesome murders are rocking the same medical community.
THEN MURDEROUS REVENGE…
The weapon? A surgical scalpel.
But who exactly is preying on these victims? And why? What does this grisly pattern reveal? And who will be the one to stop it?
Special prosecutor Jana Berzelius, who has her own dark secrets to hide, is in charge of the investigation. What she can’t know, until she is finally closing in on the murderer, is just how her own mother’s recent death is intimately connected.
If you read Crime by the Book with any frequency, you’ll be unsurprised by the way I want to kick this review off. Reading SLOWLY WE DIE reinforced for me just how fantastic it is that crime fiction is such an elastic and expansive genre. In her newest release, Schepp gives her readers a Nordic thriller that diverges so wholly from her Scandinavian peers, I’m actually convinced that fans of crime fiction subgenres other than Nordic Noir will be most aligned with the storytelling Schepp delivers within its pages. Where Nordic Noir tends to air on the side of layered plots and deep character development - and often, in its complexity, necessitates a slower reading pace - Schepp’s writing seems to lean more towards the page-turning pacing of what we might consider “commercial crime fiction”—and I must admit, I loved how she leaned into this quality in SLOWLY WE DIE. What do I mean by this? SLOWLY WE DIE is not a Nordic Noir epic; it’s not the same kind of read as the dark, gritty books written by Jo Nesbo or Yrsa Sigurdardottir. But that isn't a negative—the world needs all different kinds of books, and readers who prefer something a bit lighter and easier to binge-read will thoroughly enjoy the “popcorn reading” fun of SLOWLY WE DIE. Schepp has found a strong groove here: a plot that will appeal to readers of mainstream crime fiction and breezy pacing to match.
I’m not typically a reader of medical thrillers, but if there were ever a reason for me to try one for myself, it’s (obviously) when one is written by one of Scandinavia’s up-and-coming crime writers. In SLOWLY WE DIE, Schepp places her protagonist, prosecutor Jana Berzelius, in the center of a series of crimes rocking the medical community in Sweden. Jana is charged with investigating the crimes, but the closer to catching the killer she gets, the more clear it becomes that these killings have ties to Jana’s past. Where the previous two books in the series (MARKED FOR LIFE and MARKED FOR REVENGE) are very closely tied to unraveling the secrets of Jana’s past, SLOWLY WE DIE diverges. There are certainly elements of this story tied to Jana’s (very dark) personal history, but Schepp seems to make a clear decision here to begin expanding the scope of her series—and SLOWLY WE DIE is all the better for it. Readers may have a few questions about Jana’s backstory if they dive into the series here, but it’s totally doable; Schepp provides enough background information for the series newcomer to keep pace with Jana and her personal life in her newest series installment. SLOWLY WE DIE is first and foremost focused on its medical thriller subplot: an accident on the operating table decades prior, and a modern-day killer who seems hell-bent on revisiting - and harming - the very same medical community. While SLOWLY WE DIE does not rely as heavily on forensics and medical details as do the books of Tess Gerritsen and Patricia Cornwell, something to keep in mind if you are in the market for a thriller with a detailed portrayal of medical work, the lighter medical angle of this story makes it fresh and fun—and will please readers hoping for a thriller with just a bit less gruesome, gory details than those of the aforementioned authors.
Emelie Schepp’s SLOWLY WE DIE brings a welcome dose of Scandinavia to summer reading lists this year. Though it won’t be the right choice for readers looking for the next dark, gritty Nordic thriller (try Yrsa Sigurdardottir’s THE LEGACY for that), SLOWLY WE DIE will be a strong contender for crime readers in the market for something a bit lighter yet no less entertaining. If you’ve ever been intrigued by the concept of a medical thriller but wary of the brutal violence found within the books of authors like Tess Gerritsen, SLOWLY WE DIE will be right up your alley; Schepp has written a thriller with a strong medical subplot but without some of the more gruesome qualities of other books in the subgenre. This may be my favorite of Schepp’s books so far—her willingness to lean into something new and a bit more mainstream here was a great decision, and harnesses the entertainment value of her writing in a new, fresh way. That’s perhaps the strongest selling point of SLOWLY WE DIE: sheer "just for fun" entertainment value. With a breath-of-fresh-air protagonist and a very commercial, binge-able pacing, SLOWLY WE DIE is likely to find a very happy home in the personal libraries of crime readers this summer.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: MIRA; Original edition (June 19, 2018)
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