BookBrowse Reviews A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi

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A Death in Denmark

The First Gabriel Præst Novel

by Amulya Malladi

A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi X
A Death in Denmark by Amulya Malladi
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  • Paperback:
    Mar 2023, 336 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
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About this Book



Linking between Danish past and present through the mystifying murder of a politician, A Death in Denmark is a satisfying and enjoyable read.

Can a mystery novel be informative, intriguing and deeply comforting all at once? Amulya Malladi achieves this in her first foray into the genre, A Death in Denmark, a thriller that warns of history seeping into the present and that introduces a detective with every possibility of turning iconic: Gabriel Præst.

The city of Copenhagen comes alive under Malladi's pen with its thriving cafés, streets, houses and moody, revelatory weather. The Copenhagen we find in the book is refreshingly cosmopolitan, showing immigrant influence in its food — there were now "more sushi bars than hot-dog stands," as Præst observes — and the people the main character interacts with. Coming as it does from the Indian born-and-raised Danish citizen Malladi, this unfolds very naturally.

The novel hooks you right in with its lengthy, sharply-written opening chapter about a little Danish Jewish girl in 1943 that serves as a preamble to the main story. Malladi tackles the idea of how a country's history continues into the present in a metamorphosed way. The book's central set-up — the murder of a white politician pinned on a Muslim immigrant man, Yousef Ahmed — is placed against a palimpsest of Denmark's past dealings with those it has considered outsiders.

Præst, an ex-policeman and current private investigator, is approached to revisit the allegations against Ahmed, which leads him to wade through the uncharted waters of the history of Denmark during World War II. Ultimately, this raises questions about what it means to be Danish and whether the country can truly claim to have been and to be unquestionably and entirely on the "right" side of things.

Anointed with the peculiar quirks and idiosyncrasies befitting a detective set to appear in a series of mystery novels, Præst is characterized quite well. He's a part-time blues musician who quotes Kierkegaard and doggedly pursues the truth while dressing impeccably in fine suits, hats and shoes. He's a devoted father and a man nursing a broken heart. What's not to love?

The plot maintains a good tango between the good guys and the bad guys, enough to keep you on your toes. Whenever Præst hits upon new information regarding the case, there is pushback: a murder, a beating, a thrilling car chase. All this is sprinkled with a good dose of the dry humor that Præst starts to employ more and more as the stakes get higher.

Nowhere does the steady pace drop, and it doesn't build up too intensely or feverishly either, only becoming gripping towards the very end, and even then, gently. This offers some relief for the reader, since the book grows progressively darker as it tackles larger issues. There's no big climactic twist, only a steady acceleration toward the final resolution as the link between Danish past and present that Malladi establishes is slowly uncovered.

The novel's language can sometimes come across as clichéd — Copenhagen "had become a gastronomic mecca for food lovers," Praest "thought the world of" another character — but that rarely interferes with the movement of the plot. The story also starts to feel a little contrived towards the end, but by then, especially with all the build-up that Malladi accomplishes, you might feel that this is a way of giving Praest (and us) a very well-deserved break. The book left me with a sense of immense satisfaction, comfort and even optimism.

Reviewed by Tasneem Pocketwala

This review first ran in the May 17, 2023 issue of BookBrowse Recommends.

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Beyond the Book:
  Denmark: A Brief Overview


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