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by Anders Roslund and Borge Hellstrom
Little, Brown, May 2005
352 pages
ISBN: 0316729477

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

THE BEAST is likely to be one of my books of 2005 -- but it's a grim, explicit and chilling book that won't be to everyone's taste, and will linger with you long after you've read it.

This isn't run of the mill mystery fiction. This is top-class crime fiction, pure and simple. Everything that happens stems from the murder of two little girls in a basement in a Swedish town, the arrest of the pervert who did it and his subsequent escape from prison.

Four years after the murders the killer makes a break for freedom. He soon kills again, which spurs Fredrik Steffansson, the little girl's father, to take revenge. The anger felt spreads across the country, leaving the police struggling to contain the situation.

The plot looks a bit thin reduced to that summary, but it isn't. In reality the book is a cool, dispassionate look at the effects of vigilante behaviour and how evil can spiral out of control. There are a lot of characters moving in and out of the story, which kept me on my toes to start with. But as the book picks up speed, it's a tight and disturbing story which had me transfixed.

All the characters have their flaws and dark secrets, from the bisexual prison officer Lennart Oscarsson to Stig 'Dickybird' Lindgren, the old lag who is so institutionalised that he can never survive on the outside.

The police, too, are equally weird. Ewert Grens is the old-timer fast approaching retirement and who colleagues find almost impossible to work with -- not least for his habit of playing the songs of a 1950s Swedish singer at full volume. The leitmotiv of the songs of Siw Malmqvist seem to suggest Grens is harking back to a better and happier time in Sweden.

The prose is razor-sharp as the action cross-cuts between prison, police and the outside world. I don't know how the co-authors split up the book, but you can't see the join. Hellstrom, incidentally, is an ex-criminal, so we can assume the prison scenes are authentic -- they certainly come across with the knowledge of someone who's seen the system from within.

Forget the comparisons being made with LeCarre and Hitchcock, which aren't terribly accurate. Roslund and Hellstrom are their own men.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, June 2005

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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