BOOK REVIEW – The Killing by David Hewson

By Marty Mulrooney

The Killing David Hewson

The Killing is a crime novel written by British author David Hewson, based upon the first series of the critically acclaimed Danish TV drama of the same name. The story follows Detective Inspector Sarah Lund as she investigates the brutal rape and murder of a 19-year-old woman named Nanna Birk Larsen. Author David Hewson researched the project by travelling to Copenhagen and consulting with The Killing writer and creator Søren Sveistrup. The result is a novelisation that offers a rich retelling of the hit TV series and includes an explosive final plot twist all of its own…

The Killing is arguably the greatest TV crime drama of all time – and with good reason. The characters are engaging, the mysteries gripping and, despite all of the twists and turns that occur along the way, everything makes sense by the end. David Hewson had the unenviable task of taking everything that made the first series of The Killing so special and transferring it successfully to the written page. You couldn’t blame a fan of the show for being slightly dubious when opening this gargantuan novel for the very first time. Yet from the opening line – Through the dark wood where the trees give no shelter Nanna Birk Larsen runs – to the knockout final page, this adaptation proves utterly gripping and every bit the equal of the source material.

Fans of the show will already be familiar with the broad strokes of the plot, but David Hewson takes the characters and the story and makes them his own. Nanna Birk Larsen is a name you will remember. Found raped, beaten and drowned, her murder echoes throughout Copenhagen. Detective Inspector Sarah Lund puts her plans to move to Sweden indefinitely on hold as she teams up with her disgruntled replacement, Detective Inspector Jan Meyer, to track down Nanna’s killer. It is a story that will take over the lives of everyone involved, from the shattered Birk Larsen family to local politician Troels Hartmann, who is embroiled in a political battle to become the new mayor of Copenhagen. It is a mystery that Sarah Lund will stop at nothing to solve.

Water rushing. It cascaded out of the rear compartment after Meyer levered it open. Gallons and gallons pouring onto the muddy ground.
The smell was worse.
Lund popped another Nicotinell into her mouth and waited.
After the water a pair of naked legs fell onto the shiny rear bumper. She shone her torch there. Naked ankles bound tightly with plastic fasteners.

The relationship between Lund and Meyer is afforded greater depth and expansion in the novelisation of The Killing. It’s a genuine treat when reading the book to discover additional nuances and details that have been added, expanding an already rich tapestry. Likewise, the written medium allows the reader to gain further insight into each character, even when they aren’t talking. Presented in a brisk, staccato writing style, David Hewson delivers the story with just enough detail to paint a vivid image of a rainswept Copenhagen, without ever losing the breakneck pacing that made the show feel so immediate and compulsive to watch.

The flipside of course is that when reading The Killing rather than watching it, you lose the wonderful performances of the actors, the solid direction and Frans Bak’s memorable soundtrack. It certainly helps to watch the show before reading the novelisation, although it is by no means essential. David Hewson writes with such confidence and style that it would be entirely plausible for the show to have been an adaptation of the book. The majority of the novelisation is like revisiting a slightly expanded version of the show, with an ending that honours the original yet ends up diverging from it drastically.

‘What floor are you on?’
’The sixth one. The top one.’
Silence. Then Meyer said, ‘OK. I can see your torch now. You’re at the window.’
Lund tucked her hands in her pockets, tried to think.
’What window? I’m not using a torch.’
The silence again.
’Stay where you are, Lund. You’re not alone. I’m coming in.’

David Hewson does something incredibly risky with the ending of The Killing that ultimately makes the story his own. A straightforward adaptation would have been perfectly fine, although it wouldn’t have offered anything particularly new for fans of the series. A stunning final twist – along with some further changes to the plot that didn’t occur when The Killing aired on television – ensure that even the show’s biggest fans won’t see what’s coming. It isn’t a better ending, hence the final score – it’s just different, and firmly separates the novel from the show. It starts out as an adaptation and ends up becoming a reinterpretation. The Killing is an unputdownable page-turner that deserves as much recognition as the television show that inspired it. David Hewson transfers Sarah Lund from screen to page effortlessly – his novelisation of The Killing II can’t come out soon enough.

9.5 OUT OF 10


TELEVISION REVIEW – The Killing: The Complete Seasons One and Two (DVD)

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2 Comments

Filed under Books, Television

2 responses to “BOOK REVIEW – The Killing by David Hewson

  1. I was really bummed to hear this show got canceled. Thanks for this review; I’ve never read the book but sounds like I need to!

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