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by Mons Kallentoft and Neil Smith, trans
Hodder & Stoughton Paperbacks, September 2012
512 pages
7.99 GBP
ISBN: 1444721623

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Wallander has a lot to answer for. The moody, drunken, unstable detective, launched on the English reading public in 1997 who became a TV cult, was the forerunner of a whole squad of mixed-up Swedes to catch publishers' eyes. A country with a population hardly bigger than greater London and around ninety murders a year has been transformed into a whirlpool of violence, death and deep-seated psychological problems among those who must police it. Detective Inspector Malin Fors is the newest and one of the most successful additions to this particular stable.

Mons Kallentoft's first two books featuring his flawed heroine were runaway European bestsellers and this seems likely to join them. Set in his provincial home town of Linkoping during the autumn storms which precede the long, dark Swedish winter, it is a complex and compelling examination of privilege, bullying, revenge, uncertainty and the deeper and darker recesses of the Scandinavian psyche.

Malin Fors, close to a breakdown after an attempt on her daughter's life and fighting a losing battle with alcoholism, is called in when a self-made billionaire is found murdered in the moat of a castle he has bought from a long-established local aristocratic family. All leads go nowhere and the murder team are faced with a second inexplicable killing when the body of the unsuccessful banker son of the castle's former owner is found naked in the family crypt. Despite her worsening personal problems, the break-up of her marriage and estrangement with the daughter she loves but does not know how to reach, Fors battles on, bringing the investigation to a dramatic conclusion in a rainswept field.

This is not an airport novel. It's hard work. It is brilliantly written and shows deep understanding of human nature, whether in personal relationships, the frequently unrewarding slog of police work or the workings of a mind under stress. Kallentoft has a unique style, cleverly blending flashbacks with current action, deep analysis with the mundane, and his introduction of what can only be called a supernatural figure as part-narrator, which owes more than a little to the Shakespeare's Ghost of Hamlet's Father, and adds an unusual and thought-provoking psychic twist.

As dark as the autumn nights in rural Sweden, as cold as the winter they presage, this is one for the connoisseurs of crime writing. It will leave you shaken at its mental brutality and possibly more than a little confused, but although it's sometimes hard going just to keep in touch, it's well worth the effort.

John Cleal is a former soldier and journalist with an interest in medieval history. He divides his time between France and England.

Reviewed by John Cleal, November 2012

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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