I started reading this in Norwegian shortly after it came out four years ago, but then my Norwegian neighbour wanted it back to lend to someone else, as I was taking too long. So when I saw it had been translated to English, I immediately put it on my 'to-read' list, and I'm glad I did. The American English translation is excellent.
The book isn't written chronologically, but jumps back and forth in time from different POV's. It takes some getting used to, but, once done, it's an absorbing read.
It's very 'Scandi noire': short sentences, spare descriptions that let the reader fill in the blanks, yet always enough to keep building the pressure in some areas, yet letting it out in others.
For me, the underlying theme is, what is evil? Is it banal, as Hannah Arendt wrote? Do good people do evil things, and evil people good things? When do we cross the line from good to evil? Are we all a mix of both? There are no answers here, just many questions, if the reader is one who muses over those sorts of things.
But that's the subtext. The plot itself is a good, solid thriller. Here's the American publisher's blurb:
Police Inspector Odd Singsaker has been captured, imprisoned on an island off the Northern coast of Norway. He wakes to find himself holding a shotgun. Next to him is a corpse. But what events led him to this point? And how did he get here?
A few weeks earlier, Felicia, his wife, disappeared. Though he didn’t know it, she was trying to find her way back to Odd to reconcile, but then she vanished into a snowstorm. Possibly involved is a corrupt, coldblooded cop from Oslo, a devious college student who’s stolen a great deal of cocaine from drug dealers, and a hit man hired by the drug dealers who have been robbed. All of these lives intersect with Odd’s as he searches for Felicia.
The Fifth Element is ultimately the story of what happened to Felicia Stone. Within that journey, brutal crimes are uncovered, tenacious love shines through, and chilling characters with nothing to lose will stop at nothing to get what they want. Jorgen Brekke once again delivers a chilling thriller that readers will tear through to unravel what happened-and why.
I can understand why the existential undertones of the book are played dow--they wouldn't exactly sell it to an American market, but I've been living in Denmark for so long I've come to expect them. The first books I ever read in Danish were Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö's, which, I later read, are the pillars of crime fiction from the 70's on.