Falling Freely, As If In A Dream by Leif GW Persson

Falling freelyFiction is stranger than fact…

😀 😀 😀 🙂

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.

Olof Palme
Olof Palme

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.

Leif GW Persson
Leif GW Persson

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.

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28 thoughts on “Falling Freely, As If In A Dream by Leif GW Persson

  1. FictionFan – Thanks for your thoughts on this. I think it is challenging to create a story based on a real-life case. The credibility factor is, I think, much more of an issue in such novels. But I’m glad you found that seeing this as a crime thriller worked better. And with a solid writing style too, it sounds good.

    • Yes, I think it would be easier with a case from longer ago perhaps. I felt, I don’t know with how much justification, that he was probably having to pull some of his punches to avoid saying anything he couldn’t prove about people who are still alive. Still, overall, it was an interesting read.

  2. I like the concept of a novel based on a real, unsolved case. I might give it a try.

    I am getting seriously irritated by the infuriating Catchpool. He’s getting worked up by a bit of blood, now. That cannot have anything to do with his childhood ‘trauma’. And Poirot seems to have abandoned all people-skills and charm whatsoever. I keep getting a nagging ‘I think I can see where this is going’ feeling, but am sure I cannot be right. Which is, in itself, a good thing about a murder mystery. At this rate, the girl from the coffee shop will end up solving it haha! I do love a book that makes me rant. But the characters are almost completely devoid of any attractive qualities. I welcomed the brief mention of the marvellous Hastings. Far too brief, in my opinion.

    • That aspect was interesting, though I did find that somehow it made it harder for me to belive in than if it had been entirely fictional oddly – I kept finding I was looking for the join. But definitely worth a read.

      Haha! I wonder if it’s living with Catchpool that’s made our twinkly Poirot into such a rude grump? I reckon he’d have that effect on me! You have to wonder what his annual appraisal is like – and how he got promotion. He must be the son of the Commissioner or something. I can see the selection panel now – “what qualities do we need in a homicide inspector? Hates blood, hates dead bodies, too polite to ask questions, leaves scenes unattended to go home and do crosswords, thick as a brick… ah yes! I think I know just the man…”

      • Haha! He is just the most unlikely Inspector ever. It is one of the biggest stumbling blocks to properly enjoying the book, for me. That and the weird character of Poirot, stripped of his charm and manners. It’s all just very, very odd. She may as well have not bothered writing a Poirot novel, just create some characters she actually likes and write a stand-alone murder mystery. Nevertheless, I shall take Poirot and Catchpool to bed with me tonight and continue… (what a horrendous thought!)

  3. The Olof Palme case does seem to be Sweden’s own JFK. Henning Mankell also alluded to it in the final Wallander novel, The Troubled Man. From your review, I’d stick to Mankell I think. The Troubled Man is excellent.

    • I haven’t read any of the Wallander books, but yes, I definitely got the impression that it’s a bit of a national obsession – understandably. And if I’d known the ins and outs of all the theories I reckon I’d have enjoyed this considerably more, so I can see why it would have been very popular in Sweden…

  4. A number of Swedish novels take up the Palme assassination. It seems to be something with which the Swedish psyche is thoroughly engaged. I find the topic fascinating so I was all for having a look at this until I came to your commons about the ‘comic relief’ which sounds just too much of a bore to be bothered with. Oh well, the tbr is too big as it is to be too worried about not adding another one to the pile.

    • Yes, the Backstrom bit really bored me, but you know I can never be bothered with these drunken dinosaur ‘tecs. I wouldn’t want to completely put you off though – other than that it was an interesting read, especially if it’s something you’re interested in. Hopefully there’ll be more reviews coming along so you get some other views too…

    • It might be – but I was ignorant about it too…and still am, ‘cos I wasn’t sure what was fact and what was fiction! But you might enjoy the style more than me – I think you prefer the Carl Morck books to me (?) and the style is kinda similar, I think. Actually I don’t think I really like the Scandi style much…I think this was the last one on my TBR, and I won’t be in a rush to add others…

      • I like Karin Fossum and a few others too…will give it a shot and see what I think. I don’t like all Scandi but have had a few wins 🙂 Read a Fred Vargas which was quirky and different. Just been reading some local writers – non crime reads – which is a bit different for me. I have a few good reads coming up ( I hope), my expectations are high.

        • I’ve seen loads of positive reviews of Fred Vargas but they just don’t appeal to me at all. Yes, I’m hoping some of the pre-Christmas reads will brighten up the end of the year. 🙂

            • I don’t think I’ve been tempted by anything with a Jan/Feb date yet, but to be honest it’ll give me a chance to catch up on some of the stuff that keeps getting pushed aside for the new releases.

  5. It is hard to pull off a thriller based on a true event especially when there are so many theories bouncing around. Not sure this is for me and sounds like it is too long for me to be too tempted this time. 😉

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