The Harbor
Grade : C+

The Harbor is a Nordic noir police procedural which centers around the case of a teenager who disappears off the streets of Copenhagen on his walk home from school. While this is the third in the Kørner and Werner series, you don’t have to read the first two volumes to understand this one.

Our story begins at a plant where garbage is turned into energy. A crane operator realizes that the lift has picked up a shoe, and with growing horror notes the shoe is attached to a foot - and then an arm flops out as well. The crane is shut down and the police are called..

We then go back in time several days to meet up with detectives Jeppe Kørner and Anette Werner as they are assigned the case of missing fifteen-year-old Oscar Dreyer-Hoff. He’s only been gone for twenty-four hours, a fact which would normally have the police convinced “ he’s simply a runaway—a typically overlooked middle child doing what teenagers do all around the world” but his moderately wealthy family has received death threats in the past and are deeply concerned Oscar’s disappearance is related to the most recent missive which read:

He looked around and saw the knife that had stabbed Basil Hallward. He had cleaned it many times, till there was no stain left upon it. It was bright and glistened. As it had killed the painter, so it would kill the painter’s work, and all that that meant. It would kill the past, and when that was dead, he would be free.

Jeppe and Werner are unsure what the cryptic message is. It’s far too enigmatic to be a ransom demand but seems rather obscure for a death threat. They begin the boring but necessary work of talking to Oscar’s school friends and acquaintances, all the while keeping a skeptical eye on Oscar’s rather peculiar family. Something is wrong in the Dreyer-Hoff household but is the problem that a child is missing or that the parents are attempting to hide their own role in the murder of said child?

Nordic noir tends to be very literary in nature and to have a far slower pacing than the average American suspense novel. That is certainly true here. Much of what happens is conversations with witnesses and following up those conversations with more conversations. Experts - whom our detectives call upon to search through computers or help physically search locations - lurk in the background but Jeppe and Werner mostly stumble about talking to people who have secrets of their own that they are desperate to keep hidden.

Characterization can often be lost in police procedurals but the author does a nice job here of creating a clear picture of each detective's personality.  Werner recently had a baby. She’s the primary breadwinner of the family, her husband being the one who’s stayed home with the child, and she’s at a stage where she’s evaluating everything about that decision. Werner can’t help but critique the Dreyer-Hoff family and compare what they are doing to her own choices. She is also shown as the impatient, brasher, more maverick member of the duo and Ms. Engberg does a nice job of highlighting both the positives and negatives of that.

Jeppe is also in the midst of familial issues, since his partner Sara has kids, and that has proven to be a larger hurdle in their relationship than he expected. He spends the time he is not working on the case trying to work out how to reconcile the fact that he loves Sara but has no interest in her children, wondering if he really can be a part of their lives given those conflicting emotions. He also wonders at the impact any decision he makes will have on his career since he and Sara work together.

Like most Nordic noir novels this one takes lots of twists and turns before arriving at the denouement. Those turns aren’t action-based but perspective-based;  much like looking at an incomplete puzzle where you don’t know what picture is being built, each clue here changes what you think regarding Oscar and his disappearance.  However, the tale isn’t so much about that mystery as it is about taking a rather rambling look at the complexities of family life and how love, marriage, and children impact the individual. This slows the pacing considerably and the literary aesthetic of the tale further drags at the tempo of the narrative.  Around the halfway point we have enough information for the tale to accelerate towards its conclusion but some readers might not be invested enough to give it that long to get going.

If you are a fan of the series or a huge fan of the Nordic noir genre, then it might be worth giving The Harbor a try. However, if you like the fast paced, emotionally riveting mysteries that make up so much of today’s mystery/thriller market, this probably won’t work for you.

Buy it at: Amazon, Audible or your local independent retailer

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Reviewed by Maggie Boyd
Grade : C+
Book Type: Mystery

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : March 7, 2022

Publication Date: 02/2022

Recent Comments …

  1. What kept me reading was the sheer unpredictability of the storyline. I knew David’s and Chelsea’s paths would cross again…

Maggie Boyd

I've been an avid reader since 2nd grade and discovered romance when my cousin lent me Lord of La Pampa by Kay Thorpe in 7th grade. I currently read approximately 150 books a year, comprised of a mix of Young Adult, romance, mystery, women's fiction, and science fiction/fantasy.
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