Nordic Noir Book Review: THE BIRD TRIBUNAL by Agnes Ravatn


CBTB Rating: 4.5/5

The Verdict: hypnotic, trance-like suspense

Today I'm so excited to share a CBTB first: my first-ever blog tour! I've been waiting for just the right book to participate in a blog tour, and I most certainly found it with THE BIRD TRIBUNAL. This lyrical, haunting Norwegian crime novel is unlike anything I've read before, and completely wrapped me up in its trance-like atmosphere.

Plot (from the publisher):

Two people in exile. Two secrets. As the past tightens its grip, there may be no escape... TV presenter Allis Hagtorn leaves her partner and her job to take voluntary exile in a remote house on an isolated fjord. But her new job as housekeeper and gardener is not all that it seems, and her silent, surly employer, 44-year-old Sigurd Bagge, is not the old man she expected. As they await the return of his wife from her travels, their silent, uneasy encounters develop into a chilling, obsessive relationship, and it becomes clear that atonement for past sins may not be enough... Haunting, consuming and powerful, The Bird Tribunal is a taut, exquisitely written psychological thriller that builds to a shocking, dramatic crescendo that will leave you breathless.

In all honesty, I've never read a book quite like THE BIRD TRIBUNAL. This is no ordinary piece of crime fiction—it's not a "whodunnit" or even a "why-have-they-done-it." It's a taught, hypnotic story of two strangers cut off from the world, living in solitude with only one another's secrets for company. 

This book doesn't develop following an ordinary plot structure: readers are thrust into life with Allis, our story's protagonist, as she begins acclimating to her new life as a caretaker for an enigmatic man living off an isolated fjord. We watch Allis begin exploring the realities of her new life, and slowly but surely are granted glimpses into the shameful past that led Allis to accept this post. Likewise, we are introduced to her mysterious boss, Bagge, bit by bit. A brooding and quiet man, Bagge is prone to bouts of anger—and Allis soon discovers that there is much more to his past than she could have imagined. As their interactions grow obsessive and tense, Allis begins to fear this mysterious man she has agreed to live with. Alternating between moments of fear and budding romantic interest, Allis finds herself thrown off-kilter by Bagge's abrupt mood swings, leaving the reader just as on edge as our protagonist herself.

The most striking aspect of THE BIRD TRIBUNAL is the haunting atmosphere that Ravatn has created. I read this book in one sitting, and found myself totally transfixed by the hypnotic quality of Ravatn's writing. Despite the non-traditional plot structure, I never once wondered what the author's end goal was—I was simply under Ravatn's spell, following her characters towards what I knew could only be a tragic end. If you're looking for a non-traditional, richly atmospheric suspense novel, this might just be the perfect choice.

A huge thank-you to Karen at Orenda Books for allowing me to take part in this blog tour! THE BIRD TRIBUNAL is available from Orenda Books now.

American readers: you can find this book as an e-book, or in paperback through Book Depository.