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by Christoffer Carlsson and Rachel Willson-Broyles, trans.
Hogarth, January 2023
448 pages
ISBN: 0593449355

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Shortly before midnight on the 28th of February 1986, the Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme, was assassinated and his wife shot on a street in Stockholm as they walked home from a cinema. The crime remains effectively unsolved to this day as the one person convicted of it was ultimately found to have been unfairly tried. Most Swedes were appalled by the killing, though Palme was not universally popular.

BLAZE ME A SUN opens with several brief chapters that introduce the narrator, a writer who has returned to his boyhood home in a rural part of southern Sweden in the hope of reviving his own creative inspiration. But recollections of an old crime begin to capture his attention. Thirty-three years earlier, the first of several murders occurred on precisely same night that Palme met his end. On that night, a young woman was found severely injured in a car abandoned on a highway by a local policeman, Sven Jörgensson, who was unable to transport her to hospital quickly enough to save her life. His failure would trouble him for the rest of his life and would

even threaten his career at one point. The narrator was a schoolmate of Sven's only son and the two resume their friendship when the narrator returns to his hometown.

All this established, we are transported back to that fatal night, to Sven's discovery of the body and thereafter for the bulk of the book to the subsequent murders and the failure of the police to solve them. Although the crimes are central to the story, this is really a book about much more than mere crime and punishment. Just as the assassination of Olof Palme prompted a distinct shift in the Swedish view of themselves and their land, the murders in Halland County give rise to a similar re-evaluation in that rural backwater.

Sven is a policeman who feels most comfortable in his job when he is doing its ordinary daily tasks like restoring order when drunks get out of hand. He tries not to think about the truly awful things he has had to deal with in his thirty-year career but they are on his mind when his son Vidar announces his intention to become a cop like his dad. Vidar doesn't listen to his father's objections and his determination to enrol in the police academy transforms what might have been seen as an act of filial respect into an odd sort of defiance.

Sven's discomfort with policework does not prevent him from trying to bring whoever is murdering people to justice, a commitment that persists even though the murders cease and continues after illness forces him into early retirement. It is as though he believes that if he is successful the Sweden of his youth, the land of his parents, the real Sweden will be restored.

It is also the Sweden that the narrator has returned to his childhood home to recapture, a meaning that he has lost in his years away from his roots. Few readers will be astonished to learn, like Thomas Wolfe, that you can't go home again. Nevertheless, Carlsson's achievement is considerable here. He has used the structure of a crime novel to support a moving, deeply felt account of what is a widespread sense of unease that grips a much larger space than southern Sweden.

It is the pervasiveness of this malaise that recommends BLAZE ME A SUN to readers in general - those who share the feeling that something is profoundly wrong in the world as well as those who turn to crime fiction for reassurance that the balance can be restored. Carlsson does not provide that comfort but he does affirm that we can live without it.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, January 2023

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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