Monday, December 2, 2013

Guest Review Midwinter Sacrifice

I was inundated with great crime fiction this year but I simply couldn't read it all so some good friends of mine Carrie and Anthony who are big fans of Scandi fiction and TV have been reading some books and here is the first of their guest reviews.

Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft reviewed by Anthony Mc Intyre

It is the coldest winter that anyone in Sweden can remember. ‘Winters here are the devil’s work’ is the phrase from her father’s repertoire dancing around the head of Malin Fors, a senior detective in the city of Linkoping. A body of a very heavy man is found hanging from a tree. There is no rush to cut him down. In this weather he is not about to thaw out anytime soon. When he does eventually make the drop he lands on top of one of the cops, given new meaning to having a crush on somebody.

The killing makes the third item on the national news even though it has not been ascertained that the man was murdered. It is not a supernatural story but Mons Kallentoft has pitched some of the dialogue of this novel so that that the dead person is narrating what is going on around him as the police and forensic workers gather beneath his feet: and then some. Although unusual it complements rather than complicates. 

Investigations soon establish that the victim is a loner, someone who lived on the margins of society, known locally as Ball-Bengt, and who was frequently the subject of derision and abuse. The victim used to run after balls kicked over from the local soccer ground, hence the nick name. A harmless activity but not one in keeping with a more ‘normal’ adult mode of behaviour. Yet it didn’t make him harmful. That he had attacked his father with an axe at one point suggested he might not have been harmless either.  He might have been the victim of the Ljungsbro bullies, a couple of local teenagers given to throwing their weight about and perhaps tempted to use that weight against the weighty, often a source of satiation for bullies in need of placating their own pernicious form of gluttony.

Fors is perhaps a one glass of wine too many tippler but manages to see things something more clearly than an alcoholic haze would permit. Divorced from the father of her teenage daughter, Tove, she finds herself having to move faster than normal to keep up with adolescent demands and moods. Her husband’s past saw him work in Rwanda during the genocide and the suspicion lingers that events closer to Kigali than Stockholm might reveal a clue about Ball-Bengt’s fate.

The tight knit Murvall family, under the baleful eye of the strict matriarch, is determined to hold tight its secrets. It exudes total contempt for the police and strives to maintain an air of impenetrability. Unlike the cops of Hans Koppel these ones are active and on the job, never letting up, or failing to pursue a lead. A brutal rape in the forest from many years back and a traumatised woman provide vital leads. Did her relatives kill the fat man or is it a winter sacrifice, the residue of some ancient pagan ritual? A dead dog found strung up would suggest that it is the latter.

Literally something of a cold case without the historical connotations, it was initially as unyielding as the cold. Over time it failed to sustain its imperviousness, proving vulnerable to unpicking from dogged investigation as layer after protective layer is stripped from it.  Surrounded by an able team and overseen by a superintendant who is a cop’s cop, Malin like a snow plough drives through the obstacles that this case presents.

The story is methodical rather than pulsating. More akin to chess than boxing it grips for reasons other than excitative. The precision with which the detective work is fine tuned, the style of writing, and the inexorable closing in on the culprit holds the focus. 

This is good Scandinavian crime fiction. There is a backdrop of moroseness to the narrative, which while helping to reinforce a stereotype of the melancholy Swede it seems the perfect setting for this type of story. The moodiness that permeates much Swedish crime fiction seems paradoxically to have created a mania around it.

The good news about this book is that it is the first in a series of Malin Fors stories. If what is to come is as good as the first they will be well worth waiting for. 

Mons Kallentoft, 2011, Midwinter Sacrifice. Hodder and Stoughton: London. ISBN 978-1-444-75152-2

To check out the original review on Anthony's website click Here and if you are a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction read Anthony's reviews of  You're Mine Now and The Dinosaur Feather by clicking on the titles.
Anthony McIntyre is an Historian, Journalist and Political Commentator.

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