Book Review: AFTER SHE'S GONE by Camilla Grebe

Winner of the 2018 Glass Key Award, Swedish crime novel After She’s Gone is the follow-up to Camilla Grebe’s 2016 release, The Ice Beneath Her, which was one of my favorite books the year that I read it! While Ms. Grebe has some powerful messages to impart in her latest work, After She’s Gone is not as strong in its execution as the first in the series.


A woman vanishes in the middle of the night, leaving behind a diary that may hold the key to finding her--and to solving the murder she was investigating when she disappeared, in this thriller from the writer at the "front rank...of Nordic noir" (Kirkus Reviews).

In the two years that have passed since psychological profiler Hanne Lagerlind-Schön survived an attempted murder, she and investigator Peter Lindgren have rekindled their love, and a recent extended vacation in Greenland seems to have eased the symptoms of her early onset dementia. But when the pair is called back to Sweden to investigate a cold case involving the murder of a young girl whose remains were found in a cairn ten years earlier, the icy winter conditions and stress of the job take their toll, and she feels her mind beginning to slip. Desperate not to lose her job--or worse, Peter--Hanne begins keeping a diary, meticulously chronicling everything she's worried about forgetting.

As Hanne and Peter get closer to solving the case of the murdered girl, they both suddenly go missing. The local police have no leads. The only witness is a teenage boy who sees a woman get into a strange car in the middle of the night but, guarding a secret of his own, he is unable to come forward. The boy, Jake, discovers the notebook Hanne left behind, and reads her notes, fascinating by the unfolding murder case until he makes a shocking realization: his own father was a key suspect in the investigation. Jake becomes determined to uncover the truth on his own. 

Hanne reappears days later, with no memory of where she's been--or who she is. Without her notebook, she is lost and terrified, driven by a single thought: find Peter.

One of the common characteristics of Scandinavian and Nordic crime fiction is that it often includes social commentary, exploring issues of civic and humanitarian importance. After She’s Gone exemplifies this in spades! The novel takes place in the fictional town of Ormberg, Sweden. A small, isolated, forest town in the shadow of Mount Ormberg, it is depressed, and depopulated, in large part, due to the shuttering of factories that once sustained the community, economically. Long after closing, the factories are now housing political refugees. Reading about Ormberg, you might imagine that you are reading about a formerly-thriving, mid-western, manufacturing town in the United States. In this US analogy, not only are the workers that were once able to earn an honest, middle-class living, now struggling to adapt to the changing technological and economic landscape of contemporary, international commerce, with all of the potential dejection and disaffection that layoffs and closures may bring, now imagine that the government is housing asylum seekers in the old, shut down, GM plants, for example, where your parents, and Grandfather before them worked, and were able to earn good salaries with full benefits, to support their families. In Ormberg, Sweden of the story, the old, brick, textile factory, and the no longer operational iron works have been housing predominantly Muslim refugees in this traditionally Christian, Scandinavian town, and many of the local people feel a fear about all of the changes, about these “others”, as well as a strong resentment of the aid that the asylum seekers receive.

Within After She’s Gone, Camilla Grebe tackles, head-on, some of the potential, root causes of nationalism, extremism, and anti-immigrant sentiment. She also addresses a host of other issues such as gender identity (kudos to Ms. Grebe for addressing the frequent conflation of gender identity and sexual orientation), bullying and self-loathing, self-actualization, dementia and its effects, mortality, and more. While Ms. Grebe should absolutely be recognized and commended for writing about all of these issues, I find myself wishing that she had focused on just the anti-immigrant sentiment, or only the demonization of trans and gender-fluid people, and saved the other topic for her next book. I understand that all of the various topics addressed are timely, relevant, and important, but I do wonder if the novel would have been more effective if its focus had been narrowed. Despite having the utmost respect for the urgency of the content of her story, I found the actual narrative to be bogged down with too many non-essential details, and too much exposition. I would have preferred for the pacing to have been faster, as I found my attention frequently drifting, and for the symbolism to have been much more nuanced.

Perhaps many people need a non-subtle warning to be reminded of how the evils of history gain footholds, and have the potential to repeat themselves, and how we must be vigilant, and never forget.

One of the qualities that I admire so much about Camilla Grebe’s previous novel, which I highly recommend, The Ice Beneath Her, is that it is a terrific example of “show, not tell”. In this regard, After She’s Gone fell short.


Best for Crime Fiction Readers:

  • Who are fans of “Scandi-Noir”.

  • Who enjoy reading crime fiction in translation.

  • Who don’t mind, or enjoy, a much more measured, slower-paced, crime novel.

  • Who are interested in criminal profiling. Please note that this is not a central aspect of the novel.

  • Who appreciate crime fiction that explores coming-of-age themes.

  • Who are interested in thought-provoking, crime fiction that explores social and political issues.

Those who sow the wind, harvest the storm. (Bosnian Proverb)
— After She's Gone by Camilla Grebe

MINM Overall Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

  • Who are interested in criminal profiling. Please note that this is not a central focus of the novel.

  • Who appreciate crime fiction that explores coming-of-age themes.