The Dinosaur Feather

The Dinosaur Feather

3.3 9
by S.J. Gazan

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Selected by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan as her favorite mystery of 2013 and one of the top ten mysteries of the year by The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Nolan, S.J. Gazan's debut novel The Dinosaur Feather is a classic of Scandinavian noir. With keenly observed and deeply flawed characters, this scintillating thriller uniquely employs one of the


Selected by NPR’s Maureen Corrigan as her favorite mystery of 2013 and one of the top ten mysteries of the year by The Wall Street Journal’s Tom Nolan, S.J. Gazan's debut novel The Dinosaur Feather is a classic of Scandinavian noir. With keenly observed and deeply flawed characters, this scintillating thriller uniquely employs one of the most controversial and fascinating areas of contemporary dinosaur and avian research in its diabolical twists. The Dinosaur Feather has been published in more than a dozen countries and won the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade Award. The Financial Times called it “a top-flight thriller—smart and outrageously entertaining.
Biology postgraduate, PhD hopeful, and single mom Anna Bella Nor is just two weeks away from defending her thesis on the saurian origin of birds when her academic supervisor, the highly respected yet widely despised Dr. Lars Helland, is found dead in his office chair at the University of Copenhagen. The police discover a copy of Anna’s thesis in the dead man’s bloody lap. 

When the autopsy suggests that Helland was murdered in a fiendishly ingenious way, brilliant but tormented young Police Superintendent Søren Marhauge begins the daunting task of unraveling the knotted skeins of interpersonal and intellectual intrigue among the scientists at the university.

Everyone involved with the investigation— from Anna Bella Nor to Helland’s numerous rivals to Marhauge’s own ex-wife, who is pregnant with her current husband’s child— has something to hide, complicating the investigation and presenting the detective with the greatest professional and personal challenge of his career. 

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 08/26/2013
With a dissertation defense looming, an adversarial adviser, not to mention a needy toddler, University of Copenhagen biology grad student and single mom Anna Bella Nor seems perpetually one sippy cup away from exploding—and that’s before a coworker’s bizarre death puts her whole department under the microscope, in Gazan’s brainy thriller. Beneath the veneer of collegiality, police superintendent Søren Marhauge swiftly discovers, lies a Darwinian struggle for professional survival—as well as a cesspool of passions that are anything but academic. As the brash Anna dabbles in some increasingly dangerous sleuthing of her own, Gazan—herself a University of Copenhagen biology grad—orchestrates the suspenseful action and overlapping lives of her complex characters with deceptive ease. Just as impressively, she manages to integrate Anna’s superficially arcane research on whether birds descended from dinosaurs with the novel’s moving exploration of such broader themes as parenthood, love, and the potentially poisonous results of living with lies. Agent: Karin Lindgren, Salomonsson Agency (Sweden). (Nov.)
From the Publisher
"My best mystery of the year turns out to be yet another stunner from Scandinavia. I could be wrong (but I don't think I am) when I say that Gazan disposes of a murder victim here by an infernal means that no other mystery writer—not even the resourceful Dame Agatha—ever concocted."—Maureen Corrigan, NPR. "Favorite 10 Books of 2013."

"Formidable and satisfying . . . in the author's menacing world, sins of emotional cowardice and betrayal can be just as awful as offenses against the criminal code."—Tom Nolan, The Wall Street Journal (selected as one of the top ten mysteries of 2013)

"The asides—the dissemination of DNA, the structure of dinosaur skulls—prove as intriguing as the central mystery. A top-flight thriller that’s poisonous, smart and outrageously entertaining." —Christopher Fowler, Financial Times

"Simply put, The Dinosaur Feather is the weirdest and most ingenious new mystery I’ve read in years . . .  it will be obvious to readers why Gazan’s novel would be the leader of almost any pack. Moody and intricate, The Dinosaur Feather is every bit as unforgettable as its creepy title." —Maureen Corrigan, The Washington Post

"Skulls, feathers, claws and winged flight—all are part of an ongoing scientific controversy about the evolution of birds that winds through the pages of Danish author S.J. Gazan’s absorbing debut thriller.” —Barbra Clark, BookPage

"Gazan’s brainy thriller . . . Gazan orchestrates the suspenseful action and overlapping lives of her complex characters with deceptive ease . . . [A] moving exploration of such broader themes as parenthood, love, and the potentially poisonous results of living with lies." —Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"Intelligently plotted and psychologically believable." —Marcel Berlins, The Times

"Gazan's novel has by far outdone, not to say outshone, all other crime novels published this year." —Anette Dina Sørensen, Politiken

"Imaginative . . . a book with an independent, capable female lead, and one in which scientific research is central." —Maxine Clark, Eurocrime

"Sissel-Jo Gazan has mastered the arts of suspense and revelation." —Kristeligt Dagblad

"Simply first class." —Jyllands-Posten

Kirkus Reviews
This Danish debut manages to combine white-hot academic debates, well-nigh universal family dysfunction and murder most foul. It's always an anxious time when your dissertation defense draws near, especially if you're the single mother of a 3-year-old whose adviser has always been distant and unsupportive. But all those traumas pale for University of Copenhagen graduate student Anna Bella Nor when her unloved supervisor, professor Lars Helland, is found dead in his office, his freshly severed tongue sitting on his chest. How did Helland die, and why has his tongue been removed? Superintendent Søren Marhauge, whom Anna dubs the World's Most Irritating Detective, ought to be the person answering those questions, but he's sorely distracted by the loss of all those he loved the most and, more recently, by his sins against his ex-lover Vibe. Despite his preoccupation, Søren soon finds someone with a perfect motive for murder, if indeed Helland was murdered: professor Clive Freeman, whose long-running argument with Helland over the question of whether birds are modern dinosaurs (Helland) or the descendants of a common ancestor (Freeman) had long since turned both antagonists into zealots. But Freeman, whose rivalry with Helland has poisoned his friendship with his cherished student Jack Jarvis, was thousands of miles away in Vancouver when Helland died. A second suspicious death deepens the mystery and makes it seem ever more unlikely that all the strands will ever be tied together. Gazan's approach to the genre--everyone serves as his or her own detective searching for the solution to his or her own mystery--is more Fyodor Dostoevsky than Agatha Christie. The results are uneven, and the ending is inevitably anticlimactic, but the journey there is a revelation.
Library Journal
Doing favors can get you killed at this realistic unveiling of academia set in the University of Copenhagen. When biology postgraduate Anna Bella Nor's academic advisor is killed, it isn't his death that concerns her so much as the evidence of her PhD thesis in his lap. Soon after police superintendent Søren Marhauge is assigned to investigate, another murder occurs—and this time the victim is Anna's fellow student. The book's strength lies in Gazan's knack for unraveling the behaviors of academics, the intricacies surrounding whose research gets funding, and the favors some academics will do for a shot at prestige. The mystery ends with a twist in which some careers are destroyed and others are made. However, most crime fiction readers prefer plots that cut to the chase. Gazan's book contains several dense, extraneous segments, such as passages of detailed paleontological information that at times make the book feel like science writing disguised as crime fiction, irrelevant background information about characters, and a confusing opening dream sequence. A rigorous edit might have changed things, as the story itself is interesting. VERDICT Those who enjoy crime writers such as Alex Brett, Stephen Legault ("Blackwater" series), or Kerstin Ekman will enjoy this thriller, which was named the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade. This title may also appeal to readers with an interest in science.—Frances Thorsen, Chronicles of Crime Bookshop, Victoria, BC

Product Details

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Product dimensions:
6.46(w) x 9.24(h) x 1.48(d)

Meet the Author

S.J. Gazan graduated from the University of Copenhagen with a degree in biology. Her debut work of crime fiction, The Dinosaur Feather, was awarded the 2008 Denmark Radio Literature Prize for Best Novel of the Year and went on to become a national bestseller. The Danish Broadcasting Corporation voted The Dinosaur Feather the Crime Novel of the Decade, and in January 2013, it was awarded the Literature Prize of the Ambassadors of the French-Speaking Countries. It has been sold into more than a dozen countries. Gazan lives in Berlin with her husband and two children. Follow S.J. at

Charlotte Barslund is a Danish translator of novels and plays. She has translated works by Karin Fossum, Per Petterson, Carsten Jensen, Thomas Enger, Mikkel Birkegaard, and many more.
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The Dinosaur Feather 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 9 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this book, however could have done with MUCH less technical detail!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A host of characters and their personal problems contribute to provide a riveting mystery. A most enjoyable read.
Anonymous 10 months ago
Excellent, interesting book with unique characters and different, but believable plot twists!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really bad. This book saved me a lot of time and money because it's so awful. If this is the epitome of modern Danish noir, as I've read, then I don't need to read any more of it. The writing is clunk and wooden; I don't know if that's true in the original, or just this translation. There's not a single likable character in the book, other than a few very minor players. Anna Belle is one of the most irritating protagonists I've ever read: her only emotion is anger, and her only mode of expression is screaming. The author wants you to think she is a good person underneath, but I can't see it. The detective doesn't actually solve the mystery! And the mysteries themselves are uninteresting and the solutions very unsatisfying.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Editing poorly for American reader. Bounces from character to character with no seeming connection. And of course scandinavian towns and names are odd to our thought process
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A very unusual and literary book! Written by someone with great passion in paleontology, which is infectious!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Maybe this was just a bad translation, but I was really disappointed in this book. The Washington Post gave it a glowing review so I bought it--the discussions science theories were interesting, though.