REVIEW: A Presence of Absence by Sara Surgey and Emma Vestrheim (Odense Series #1)

Series: Odense Series

Book Number: 1

Read this book for: thriller, gritty detective story, British crime, Nordic noir, damaged detective, personal detective story

Quick Review: A combination of noir and thriller, this has the soul of a great detective story.


British detective Simon Weller escapes the fallout from the recent suicide of his Danish wife, Vibeke and heads out to her home city of Odense. But once there he is paired up with a local detective, Jonas, who is also about to hit rock bottom in his home life and they must overcome their differences and personal problems to try and catch one of the worst serial killers Odense has seen in many years. The case takes them back into past decades as history starts catching up with some of the local inhabitants.

When Simon realises that his wife’s suicide may not be all it seems and her name appears in the case, his integrity within the case is compromised, how far will he go to find out the truth of Vibeke’s past and hide it from his already troubled police partner?

Back home in London Simon’s family are struggling with their own web of lies and deceit and the family is falling apart.

With one family hiding a dark secret, the whole case is just about to reach breaking point.

A PRESENCE OF ABSENCE is the first in a new series centred around the Danish city of Odense, featuring British detective Simon Weller – a man devastated by grief after his beloved Danish wife Vibeke took her own life – and his son and daughter, who are also dealing with the loss.

Vestrheim and Surgey do a good job of marrying the pace of a British thriller with the gritty sparseness of Nordic noir. In fact, this novel reminds me a fair bit of some of Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander series – and they even include a bit of a nod and wink to that series through a reference to Ystad, Kurt Wallander’s hometown. The plot twists and turns, with the story being carried nicely by a number of different characters.

The different character viewpoints are skilfully woven together, as well as allowing you a better glimpse into their lives. One of the great strengths of this novel is the miniature character studies that often accompany a new viewpoint. These little moments do an excellent job of deepening the reader’s understanding of – and empathy for – the characters.

This series has the makings of a great, addictive story. I would love to see a publisher pick the series up so it can be further refined to fulfill its gritty potential, and reach many more people!

If you are looking for a fresh take on your favourite parts of British crime thrillers and Nordic noir, A PRESENCE OF ABSENCE is definitely worth a look! I do hope a publisher realizes its potential and picks it up, because these ladies have crafted an excellent story.

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