😀 😀 😀 🙂
Lars Martin Johansson, Chief of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, decides to have a final shot at solving the twenty-year old assassination of then Prime Minister of Sweden, Olof Palme. Pulling together a small team of his best detectives, he gets them to begin a review of the huge amount of paperwork relating to the investigation, trusting that fresh eyes might spot something previously overlooked. Meantime, Chief Inspector Bäckström, now sidelined to working in the Lost Property division, is determined to find a way to get the reward offered for solving the crime.
This is a rather strange book in that the assassination of Olof Palme is, of course, a real event, which has never been properly solved. Although one man was convicted of the murder, he was later released on appeal. While many still think him guilty, there are about a zillion other theories too – from rogue police officers to Kurdish terrorists – and all, from what Persson suggests, based on the thinnest of evidence or none at all. So from the start it was hard to see exactly where we were going to end up in this book – either Persson would have to stick with the facts, leading to an untidy unresolved ending, or he would have to invent a solution. I thought he might be going to use the opportunity to put forward his own pet theory (I’m guessing every Swede has one) but the book didn’t really give me that impression. Instead it read more like a kind of slow thriller and seemed to veer further from reality as it progressed. In fact, I found all the way through that I didn’t know which bits were fact and which were fiction, which meant that by the end I couldn’t really say I knew more about the real assassination than I did at the beginning (i.e., nothing). I suspect this would work much better for anyone who knows the ins and outs of the crime and investigation before they begin, but for me it all felt too confused and unclear. The more I read, the more unconvinced I became about the merit of using a real, unsolved case in this way, especially such a high profile and recent case.
Putting the concept to one side, then, and looking at the book purely as a crime thriller worked a little better for me. Johansson and his team are well drawn and their interactions have a convincing feel. We get to see them in their off-duty lives too, which makes them feel well rounded. This is a team of professionals who on the whole respect each other and work well together. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Bäckström – obviously supposed to be the comic relief, he is an ‘old-fashioned’ sexist, racist, drunken, corrupt copper – oh dear! Yes, occasionally he has a funny line, but really he is so stereotyped and one-dimensional as to be completely unbelievable, and I tired very quickly of his foul-mouthed, offensive remarks. Maybe they were funnier in Swedish. The whole strand relating to him made very little sense as far as I could see, and I felt the book would have been better and tighter without him in it.
The fictional investigation sees the detectives discussing many of the ‘tracks’ followed by the real investigators, plus, I assume, some made up stuff so that Persson could deliver his own version of events. While interesting, there is a good deal of repetition in these sections, not just of information, but often the same phrases being used time and again, all of which contributes to the book being seriously overlong. The translation is fine for the most part, but occasionally becomes clunky and a few times actually leaves the meaning somewhat unclear. Overall, the interest of the original case plus the good characterisation of the main team just about outweighed the annoying Bäckström and my mild irritation at not knowing where the line lay between fact and fiction. I’d guess that Persson fans will enjoy this but, although it works as a standalone, in hindsight perhaps it’s not the best of his books to start with.
NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Random House Transworld.