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by Jenny Rogneby
Other Press, August 2017
445 pages
ISBN: 1590518829

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

The photograph of the author that I received as a part of the review package for LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST tells me the beginning, middle, and ending of Jenny Rogneby's police procedural. In her author's persona, Rogneby pouts at the camera, arms crossed defensively. She does not want to be with her readers, and she dares us to come any closer. Her space, not ours. I wanted to apologize for opening the covers. Once I opened the covers, I wanted Rogneby to apologize for having written the book. The crime—sending a naked little girl with what seems to be a bomb strapped to her to rob a bank—is gripping, novel, and daring. However, a selfish, pouting police officer who endangers the abused little girl by her attitude and her actions is both unrealistic and immoral.

Dramatis personae: Leona Lindberg, police officer in the Violent Crimes division of the Stockholm police force, abused as a child, "difficult" as an adult, perhaps borderline autistic; Peter, Leona's husband, employed in an advertising agency; Benjamin, their young son, dying of Crohn's Disease; Nina Wallen, District Prosecutor and Leona's friend; Claes Zetterlund, impatient and distant Police Superintendent; Christer Skoog, a young journalist determined to make his mark by revealing that the Finance Minister uses the services of prostitutes; Olivia, a seven-year-old girl, kidnapped by her father, and coerced into robbing banks to fund his lifestyle.

Rogneby's novel had promise at the beginning. Following the path blazed by Stieg Larsen, she includes a journalist who is uncovering his country's ugly secrets. Following a plethora of authors, Rogneby writes a female detective who must surmount the doubts of those who believe that only men should be police officers. Finally, the child victim is a staple of crime novels, and for good reason: most of us immediately sympathize with child victims, deplore the criminals who abuse them, and hail the detectives who free the children from their tormenters. What went wrong?

A lot of whining, which simply does not make for good fiction. Between exposure of socially or legally condoned abuse of women and whining about one's own life choices is a wide gap, very wide, indeed. The one invites our sympathy and our ire, perhaps even our activism, or at least our finishing the book. The other is merely tiresome. Leona is tired of being a mother, although, one assumes, she made a choice to bear her son. Although her husband brings in a good income he sometimes works late, and she is tired of having to be polite or kind to him. Although, one assumes, she has taken on police work freely and of her own choice, she complains that the work is hard, the hours long, and the supervisors and laws sometimes unreasonable. Did Leona's own abuse make her believe that she deserved more than those around her? Did motherhood or marriage make her that way? As near as I can tell, these things are "the die" in Rogneby's book's subtitle.

Instead of finishing this novel, I wanted to shake the novelist. Dear Jenny: Women's rights are our right to work equally well, equally hard, for equally long hours, and for equally obtuse managers and receive equal pay. It is our right to feel safe from abuse and to confront our abusers, ask for redress. It is our right to have access to safe and effective birth control, and to pay for and receive the sorts of education for which our minds or bodies are fit. That's it, Jenny! No one said that these freedoms were easy to bear. No one said that we were free to become nuisances, criminals, gamblers, or abusers ourselves. Freedom is for good, Jenny! Who wants the right to do ill, and who would sympathize with or grant that right?

§ Dr. Cathy Downs is Professor of English at Texas A&M University-Kingsville and a fan of the well-turned whodunit.

Reviewed by Cathy Downs, April 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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