😀 😀 😀 😀 😀
Suspended cop, Leo Junker, is awakened by the flashing blue light of police cars parked outside his apartment block. A prostitute has been murdered in the hostel for down-and-outs situated on the ground floor. Leo sneaks past the cops guarding the entrance to have a look around before the police detectives arrive, and is shocked when he sees what the victim is clutching in her hand – a necklace Leo instantly recognises.
There’s quite a lot about this book that should have made me dislike it. Leo is angst-ridden in the extreme – traumatised and disgraced after a fatal shooting incident, he pops tranquillisers constantly, often washing them down with absinthe. He’s a maverick, working the case on his own even though he’s on long-term sick-leave – a euphemism for suspension in his case, till his superiors can decide what to do with him. Some days the mix of drugs, alcohol and stress leave him barely conscious, much less functional. And part of the book is in the dreaded first person, present tense, which makes my hackles rise more and more as it continues its tediously ubiquitous hold over crime fiction.
However, the quality of the writing and translation is high, and after a bit of a shaky start the story hooked me completely. It’s another of these books, so prevalent at the moment, where the present day crime arises out of events in the past, and it is the strand from Leo’s youth that raises the book well above standard. Blissfully this strand, which is actually the bulk of the book, is written in the past tense. Also, because Leo is young in it, he hasn’t yet become the drunken, pill-popping mess he is in the present.
Young Leo lives in Salem, a run-down area on the outskirts of Stockholm, a place where the youngsters grow up without much in the way of hope or aspiration. For years he has been the victim of two older bullies, but when he is around sixteen he meets up with another boy, John Grimberg, ‘Grim’, who’s a bit of a loner and misfit, and the two quickly become friends. Grim has a younger sister, Julia, to whom Leo finds himself becoming attracted, despite knowing Grim is overly protective of her. This little triangle is the basis for the story in the past and for the events that will happen years later in the present. Leo’s family is strong and quite supportive, but Grim and Julia aren’t so lucky with their parents. The book gives a convincing picture of the way adolescents can live a separate life from their families even though they are still at home, dealing with their own problems as best they can. Bullying is a major feature of the story and again Carlsson handles it sensitively and believably. He also shows how easily young boys can find themselves drifting into a life of crime, when neither their families nor communities are there to give them the support and guidance they need. I found this whole section of the story entirely credible and absorbing to the point where I didn’t want to put the book down. I could have lived with a bit less swearing and teenage sex, but both were consistent with the characters and relevant to the plot.
The present day strand also kept me interested, even though I didn’t find older Leo as sympathetic a character as his younger self. The solution becomes obvious pretty early on, so the bulk of this section is more about tracking the murderer than trying to work out whodunit. There is a thrillerish aspect to the story but it doesn’t go wildly over the top. In fact, Leo’s maverick tendencies lessen over the course of the story as he is gradually sucked more into the official investigation. Overall I thought this was an excellent read, and will be looking forward to reading more from the author in the future, with my fingers firmly crossed that Leo can put his troubled past behind him, along with the drink and drugs. Apparently the book was named Best Crime Novel of 2013 by the Swedish Crime Association – well-deserved, I think.
I won this book via Raven’s blog, so many thanks to both Raven Crime Reads and the publisher, Scribe Publications.