This was a hit with our book group! No-one rated it less than 4-Stars.
Die for Me is Jesper Stein’s second novel in his Axel Steen series. Although acclaimed in his native Denmark and winning awards for his debut novel Unrest (published in 2012), Stein’s books have only recently been translated into English and published in the UK.
What made this book unusual for our book group was that everyone liked it! Even people who don’t usually enjoy police procedurals got hooked, and no-one gave it less than 4-Stars.
Axel Steen is a Detective Inspector in the Copenhagen police and working to catch a serial rapist. When a DNA sample links the attacks to a cold case from four years earlier, Steen is drawn back to a time when his wife left him, taking their small daughter with her. As he becomes more and more obsessed with the investigation he clashes frequently with his colleagues to get to the truth, and there are lots of false leads and near misses. It’s a compelling plot which starts quickly and draws you in just as fast on lots of different levels.
Copenhagen is a fascinating location seen through Stein’s eyes. The city’s dark underbelly is revealed slowly and carefully. The police often seem inept, or at least only anxious to have an easy life. Clues in the cold case haven’t been followed up, and in the current investigation details have been missed or ignored. At times Steen seems to be the only person who wants to find out what really happened.
One of the things we all commented on was the unusual storyline. The book starts with a murder but ends up being about rape. And unlike some of his colleagues, Axel Steen feels very strongly about both. Often in crime novels, if a woman is raped and killed the rape is sidelined. But this doesn’t happen here. All of our group thought it was an extremely well-handled mystery about a subject many crime writers ignore.
Stein’s writing style is punchy and direct yet he describes Copenhagen so well you get a real feeling for the locations. At times it’s difficult to like Axel Steen. He’s a flawed man – volatile and often bad tempered, angry, difficult and rude.
Of course this makes his work relationships extremely difficult and his private life is no less complicated. There are some ‘sort-of’ friends and a ‘sort-of’ girlfriend, but he’s close to no-one and always brooding about his broken marriage. Despite all this, his doggedness and single-minded pursuit of the perpetrator catches your imagination and you soon find yourself accepting all his shortcomings.
It’s fair to say we loved this book. It has so much going for it. It’s fast-paced, complicated, well-written and easy to read. All of us found it hard to put down and that’s a bit of a rarity in our group because we all enjoy very different types of crime story. Our star ratings ranged from 4 through 4+ to 5, so that must tell you something.
Review by: Oundle Library’s Crime Fiction Book Group