Review: Marked for Life (Jana Berzelius, #1) by Emelie Schepp



MIRA | 2016

Filed Under: A child’s jam-hand marks on a murder scene.

I’ll be honest, the only reason I read this was because of the cover. It’s pretty sexy. 

Unfortunately, outside of that shallow element, this book didn’t work for me at all. And go figure, basing a decision on literally nothing of depth didn’t leave me fulfilled. Shocking.

I’ll chalk up my low rating of this Scandinavian thriller to an all-encompassing “lost in translation” excuse. But in my typical nature of full disclosure, the other reviews I’ve read have said even the original language version is a sleeper. TBR at your own risk. 

What we get with this story is a prosecutor, Jana Berzelius, working with the local PD to find the killer of a man who served as the head of the country’s migration board. You go from that dead guy to a dead boy and a missing girl, and it’s all tied up in a sex trafficking ring. Jana has a personal history with some of the themes explored so she turns into a little bit of a vigilante, which seems to be against her nature. 

The synopsis for me wasn’t what would typically catch my eye, but combined with that striking cover I thought WHAT THE HELL, I’LL TRY IT. And here I am now:

arrested development huge mistake GIF

I should have stopped reading after the first few hours because honestly, it was painful. But I have such a hard time DNFing stories that I powered through (I’m working on that.) It wasn’t until about the 75% mark that the pace started to pick up and became more interesting and faster-paced. But seriously, that’s a long time to wait for a book to hit the gas, and even then, it doesn’t drive into anything fantastic. It just became a normal level of decent.

The first 3/4th of the book, however, is just mind-numbingly annoying to read. And that brings me back to the whole “lost in translation” thing. 

The English in this story is far too “on the nose.” It is stilted and formal and so utterly proper that it made the characters feel like they were robotic carbon copies of each other. No one had a personality, everything was stiff and awkward. And without turns of phrase or slang or relaxed sentence structure, the way of writing also made things very boring and linear. It was as bland as oatmeal. 

 “No,” she lied.
“But they do mean something,” said Ola.
“Yes, I agree.”
“They must have a purpose.”
“But I can’t figure it out.”
“Or I’m interpreting them wrongly.”
“Yes, I realize it is.”


dance robot GIF

Every conversation was like this. But further, even the overtly descriptive prose outside of dialogue was far too exact and therefore unnatural and awkward and unpleasant to process with my brain-thing. 

The main character of Jana was totally unlikeable and so flat in every aspect, that she dragged the story down instead of propping it up. For me, even if the plot is slim, a robust main character can fill in the gaps and create a better story. Here, however, Jana was so spiritless and mechanical that she actually slowed down the more interesting parts that managed to exist. 

She was unemotional, even in the face of emotional stressors. She was monotone and wrapped up so tightly that knowing anything about her, besides the pieces of facts dropped here and there, was impossible. And because of this, the motivations for her actions were hard to understand and left aspects of the story feeling disjointed. 

While I usually like the brooding and dark nature of a Nordic thriller, this almost took that too far, centring the story around a brooding main character who was sooooo dark that she only served to make the story harder to get into with her lack of personality. 

Will I continue with this series? Probably not. There were times when I stopped reading this book, put it away and actually forgot I was reading it. That doesn’t bode terribly well for my future interest in the rest of the trilogy.


When a high-ranking head of the migration board is found shot to death in his living room, there is no shortage of suspects, including his wife. But no one expects to find the mysterious child-sized handprint in the childless home. 

Public prosecutor Jana Berzelius steps in to lead the investigation. Young and brilliant but emotionally cold, Berzelius, like her famous prosecutor father, won’t be swayed by the hysterical widow or intimidated by the threatening letters the victim had tried to hide. Jana is steely, aloof, impenetrable. That is, until the boy… 

A few days later on a nearby deserted shoreline, the body of a preteen boy is discovered, and with him, the murder weapon that killed him and the original victim. Berzelius is drawn more deeply into the case for as she attends his autopsy, she recognizes something strangely familiar in his small, scarred, heroin-riddled body. Cut deep into his flesh are initials that scream child trafficking and trigger in her a flash of memory of her own dark, fear-ridden past. Her connection to this boy has been carved with deliberation and malice that penetrate to her very core. 

Now, to protect her own hidden past, she must find the suspect behind these murders, before the police do. 

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