“Then he knew why everything was starting to make sense, and he knew there wasn’t a second to lose. Or – he tried to repress the thought – there was no need to hurry anymore. It was already too late.” – Sarah Surgey & Emma Vestrheim
A Presence of Absence:
A Review by Linnea Ryan
A Presence of Absence is the first novel in the new Odense Series released by self-published author duo Sarah Surgey and Emma Vestrheim. The plot follows the story of Simon, a London police detective, who travels to Odense, Denmark in a desperate bid to gain closure after the abrupt death of his late wife. Instead of the peace he was looking for, Simon instead finds himself recruited by the local authorities to help investigate the alleged suicide of a wealthy young woman. However as the investigation deepens it becomes apparent that, as William Shakespeare once famously phrased it, “Something is rotten in the state of Denmark,” and nothing is really what it seems.
Through heart wrenching betrayals and gruesome murders, readers are taken between countries and between lives in A Presence of Absence. Surgey and Vestrheim explore interesting cultural differences in a tale that jumps back and forth between London and Odense. It is their writing’s distinctive sense of place that helps to ground readers in switches between chapters that would otherwise be jarring and unsettling. Whether introducing a dilapidated farm or a stately home, their descriptions of setting are lush and full of sensory details that help to heighten the mystery surrounding their characters. The detailed depictions of Danish landmarks and culture are particularly endearing.
However, while expansive descriptions can aid in grounding a setting, such a tendency toward verbosity sometimes diminishes the storytelling in A Presence of Absence. The narration in the novel leans heavily on exposition to illustrate the inner minds of their character’s which tends to be unnecessary when a novel is so full of explosive actions and dramatic unfoldings. Surgey and Vestrheim have artfully imagined a cast of complex and flawed characters but like so many new writers they do not yet trust their readers to capture the nuance of their thoughts through their actions and instead overcompensate with narration. The only other qualms readers might have with the novel are the occasional misspelling and grammatical inaccuracy.
That being said, these are minor flaws in an otherwise compelling tale. The nuances of structure and grammar can be taught and revised, but the imagination required to craft a detailed mystery novel cannot be learned. Luckily, Surgey and Vestrheim possess wild imaginations as well as another vital trait for storytelling: empathy. The concepts of loss and grief are battled by multiple characters throughout the novel. The authors do an excellent job of exploring how different people respond to the unexpected loss of a loved one. Much of the plot revolves around how, for better or worse, the actions you take while grieving tend to have a ripple effect that could change the lives of those around you. It’s this tender show of empathy that helps to keep characters relatable and personable, but it’s the authors’ creativity and imagination that will make you want to keep turning page after page to find out what happens next in this Nordic web of intrigue.
A Presence of Absence can be purchased here.
More information about the authors can be found here.
Instagram: Sarah: https://www.instagram.com/the_wormcatcher/ Emma: https://www.instagram.com/emmavestrheim169/