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by Karin Alvtegen
Felony & Mayhem, January 2008
210 pages
ISBN: 1933397861

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Sibylla Forsenstrom had a life of privilege as compared to her schoolmates in a small town in Sweden. Her father headed the main local business. However, Sibylla's life was not all champagne and caviar.

Her parents were emotionally abusive. Ultimately, she ended up in a mental institution as a result of her warring emotions, suffering from depression and an unwanted pregnancy. Sibylla's hatred of her parents rules her life. However, she is not at all reluctant to accept a monthly stipend from them, which allows her to live life on her own and plan for a better future.

As an adult, Sibylla moves to Stockholm and "lives rough." She has been homeless for about 15 years but has appears convincing enough to pull off a con where she gets businessmen at upscale hotels to buy her a meal and treat her to a room. That scheme goes horribly wrong when her latest meal ticket is found murdered. The police immediately begin to look for the woman with whom they believe he spent the night. When another similar murder occurs shortly thereafter, the heat is on. A link is made to Sibylla, and she goes into hiding while attempting to uncover the real killer.

Sibylla has never been able to fully trust anybody, but she finds an unexpected ally in a teenaged boy who stumbles across her latest hidey-hole. Patrik views her life as a grand adventure; against all odds, Sibylla finds him to be a real friend and someone who helps her work through the mess in which she's found herself.

I found some of the emotional aspects of the book surprisingly off key. For example, when discussing Sibylla's childhood, it is clear that her parents did things that led to her humiliation and being ridiculed by others. Sibylla's reaction to these incidents comes across as whiny, as most of what happened was mildly disturbing at best and at times downright silly.

At times in the narrative, the point of view switches to the real killer. These passages are fraught with religious symbolism. For me, they didn't lead to an understanding of the killer but rather made things more murky.

Alvtegen excels at building suspense and has created memorable characters in Sibylla and Patrik. Sibylla lives a very frugal life; she has an audacious dream of owning her own home and rarely spends the money she comes by for anything other than the bare necessities. The way that her dream is realized is quite implausible, but even so, the reader can't help being moved that something good has happened in her life.

Karin Alvtegen was one of the first of the Swedish authors to be translated into English. Since MISSING was originally written in 2000 and won the Glass Key Award as the best Scandinavian crime novel of the year, there has been a huge increase in the number of Scandinavian authors being published in English. The publisher, Felony & Mayhem, has done the United States a favor by reissuing this book in the US. The most recent English edition was released in the UK in 2003 and had never been published in America. Let us hope this reissue will lead to more American readers becoming acquainted with this talented author.

Reviewed by Maddy Van Hertbruggen, March 2008

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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