Bi Book Club: Red Snow
By Siobhan Ball
April 23, 2022
Photo credit: Unsplash/Christian Kielberg
The sequel to Will Dean's Nordic noir Dark Pines, Red Snow is a compelling, darkly claustrophobic novel that follows bi protagonist Tuva Moodyson's attempt to leave the small Swedish town for good. Of course, like all good Nordic Noir's, nothing is ever simple, and Dean's follow-up novel rends the town darker and more complex than before.
In the time between Dark Pines ending and the opening of Red Snow, Tuva's mother lost the battle with cancer. Despite all the grief, there's a silver lining in it; she can finally leave Gavrik, with its folk horror, freezing temperatures, and small-town mindset, for good. Prepping to leave for her new job with a proper newspaper in a city further South, Tuva is tying up loose ends and saying her goodbyes when she makes the decision that launches her right into the path of another serial killer.
After witnessing the public suicide of the Grimberg licorice factory owner, the town's only industry and primary source of income, Tuva finds herself approached by David Holmqvist: ghostwriter, local outcast and man whose name she cleared that helped save her life in the last novel. Holmqvist is embarked on a very special project, his first book written under his own name, a history of the Grimbergs and their factory. The only problem is he's having trouble getting his subjects to open up to him, and now especially with the death of their patriarch, he doesn't see that improving any time soon. As a journalist trained to interview people, and a woman herself, Holmqvist thinks the three generations of Grimberg women are more likely to open up to Tuva — and the money he's offering her would go a long way to help offset the costs of burying her mother and getting out of town.
At the same time, a new set of serial murders begin in Gavrik, and they seem to be connected to the licorice factory, or possibly the mysterious Grimberg family themselves. Living in a glorious but decaying residence over the factory, the three Grimberg women each present a confusing piece of a generational puzzle; obsessively superstitious, fixated on death and hinting at a dark secret at the heart of the factory itself. With the murders happening suspiciously close to Tuva and other sinister events taking place in the town, everyone begins to look like a suspect, and it starts to become a race for survival with Tuva counting down the days she has to avoid being murdered before she can leave town.
In some ways, this is a better book than the last. The writing is tighter, the feeling even more sinister and claustrophobic, and filled with so many red herrings you end up suspecting everyone and completely unable to predict which of them will turn out to be the killer in the end. Despite that, the groundwork Dean lays doesn't really pay off. In particular, the mysteries surrounding the licorice factory, the odd superstitions, and the folk magic carried out by the Grimberg women are never really resolved or explained in a satisfying way. Similarly, the actual identity of the killer, though cleverly done and an interesting exploration of how a community can create a monster, undoes a lot of the message of the previous novel. Despite this, it's still an enjoyable read, with the additional development of Tuva's character and her relationships with the people around her a particular highlight.
Dean continues to depict Tuva's bisexuality really well, and the relationship that develops between her and someone I won't name to avoid giving too much away was both sexy and sweet. In particular, Tuva's total inability to tell whether the other woman is flirting with her or not (spoiler, she absolutely is) is hilariously familiar to most wlw women. At one point, I actually started mockingly repeating the line "is this the gesture of a friend" out loud while I was reading, something that provided my wife with a great degree of entertainment once I explained what was going on.
Similarly, the disability representation in the book continues to be done well, with Tuva's deafness realistically impacting her life in a way that feels natural rather than hamhanded. Her obvious PTSD and other mental health struggles, and the general problem of alcoholism endemic to towns like Gavrik are sensitively handled. Disability is never a source of monstrousness in Dean's books, despite that being a common trope of the genre. Instead, it's a real and present part of life, not just for Tuva, but for society in general — something that's too often missing, even in books that attempt disability representation.
For all that, I was disappointed by the reveal of the killer's true identity and the loose ends Dean didn't finish tying up. Red Snow is still an enjoyable and satisfying read, and Dean's ability to portray a bi woman who not only feels authentic but manages to be both messy and sympathetic leaves me hoping for more of Tuva in the future.