I'M TRAVELING ALONE by Samuel Bjørk
CBTB Rating: 5/5
The verdict: must-read
My list of recommended Scandinavian crime authors just keeps growing, and today I'm officially adding Samuel Bjørk to that list. I'M TRAVELING ALONE is his first book to be published in the US, and I was totally captivated by it. This story embodies everything I love about Nordic crime fiction: it is layered, richly developed, bleak, and utterly gripping.
I'M TRAVELING ALONE starts with a simple premise: a hideous crime is committed, and a police force rallies to solve it. In a Norwegian forest, a young girl is found hanging from a tree, a sign around her neck reading "I'm traveling alone." The police department calls upon one of its best detectives, the troubled Mia Krüger, drawing her back into a world she was desperate to leave behind. As the bodies of more girls appear, Mia realizes that a serial killer is at work, and that one of her coworkers might be the killer's ultimate target.
While the plot of this book is compelling at face value, it's where Bjørk takes the story that really won me over. I'M TRAVELING ALONE is much more than a police procedural, though it is an excellent police procedural as well. It's a complex puzzle, a story of love and loss, and a book that gets under your skin.
If you're looking for a quick read, this isn't the book for you. This book is deliberate and measured in its pacing—I loved how carefully Bjørk crafts each character and scenario in this book. This story is one of the more complex I've read recently: Bjørk takes the time to flesh out each of his book's many storylines and characters until they're living and breathing in the reader's imagination. The reader hoping for a succinct crime novel will be frustrated by Bjørk's pacing; I, on the other hand, was engrossed by the world and characters that Bjørk so richly and precisely imagines. The reward for his precision? Characters you are emotionally invested in, plot twists that genuinely shock you, and an ending that will leave you in tears.
Also of note is Bjørk's leading lady, the brooding and haunted Mia Krüger. Krüger is an unforgettable heroine—a woman worthy of Lisbeth Salander's legacy. Bjørk's skill as a storyteller is put on display in his development of Krüger. As the story unfolds, the reader learns bits and pieces of Krüger's past, and comes to sympathize deeply with her. She is complex, strong, flawed, haunted, fiercely independent, and ultimately very human, and I will genuinely miss reading about her character.
All in all, Samuel Bjørk's I'M TRAVELING ALONE is a standout. It's no small task to write a book that successfully incorporates so many subplots, but Bjørk does it effortlessly. I highly recommend this book, and thank the folks at Viking for introducing me to a new favorite read.
Disclaimer: I am an employee of Penguin Random House. All opinions my own.