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by Mons Kallentoft and Neil Smith, trans.
Atria, June 2012
454 pages
ISBN: 1451642474

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Mons Kallentoft knows how to make readers feel cold. The frigid temperature is a constant companion of Malin Fors and her fellow police officers who have a particularly gruesome case to investigate. An obese man has been tortured to death before being strung from a high tree branch deep in the frozen woods surrounding Linkoping, a city that sounds as if it's adjacent to the North Pole, but is actually southwest of Stockholm. Simply cutting the naked body down without destroying evidence is a challenge. So is discovering who the unfortunate victim was.

In a move that is handled much more effectively in Asa Larsson's UNTIL THY WRATH BE PAST, the victim is a character in the story, commenting on the action and on what it's like to be free of the limits he felt in life. Early on, as the police work out how best to get the body down, he says (in italics, of course) "I'm tired of hanging around like this, of this game you're playing with me down there in the snow below me. It's fun watching how your steps in the snow become tracks, tracks I can amuse myself by following, round, round, like restless memories hidden in inaccessible synapses." The trouble is that, though this device provides us with the facts of his unhappy life, his voice doesn't sound like the person who we gradually learn about through the exhaustive police investigation, a lonely man who was a figure of fun as he routinely waited outside a football stadium, hoping he might catch a stray ball, a man who as a child attacked his abusive father with an axe. He sounds instead like a spirit from another world with access to an unabridged dictionary.

In the course of the investigation we learn a lot about Malin Fors, an instinctive detective who can't let go, who neglects her 13-year-old daughter at times pursuing a lead or looking for release in alcohol. Her ex-husband isn't any more stable; his compulsive need to serve as a peacekeeper in some of the most dangerous parts of the world has left him tormented by nightmares. We also learn about a sex-obsessed leader of a pseudo-pagan cult and meet a peculiar family of brothers led by a fiercely proud woman who has taught them to shun conventional ways of making a living. They are protective of their mother and of their sister who, years ago, was raped in the woods and has lived in total silence in a nursing home ever since.

Though it all sounds a bit improbable and melodramatic, Kallentoft is a good storyteller and it's actually quite compelling, with deft characterizations, a sympathetic if sometimes annoying heroine, and vivid descriptions. As so often is the case, it is far too long, and the pacing flags as a result. Still, it's a promising beginning for a new series, and is a refreshingly frigid entertainment for a hot summer's day.

Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, July 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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