Midwinter Sacrifice – Mons Kallentoft

The Setting: Linkoping, Sweden, in the depths of one of its coldest winters.   (Yes, Scandinavian crime is definitely in just now.)

Story: A man is found, naked, hanging from a tree. Who is he? Who killed him? And why? These are the key questions which Malin Fors, detective and single mother, battles to answer.

Good Stuff: The setting is delivered to perfection. As you read, you shiver with the cold that’s gripping the place.

Outside, great snowflakes are sailing to the ground; Malin thinks that they look like the remnants of beautiful starts that were pulverised far out in space, billions of years ago.

More Good Stuff: The lead character is superbly drawn, with fine insights to her state of mind and motivation. You feel you know this person, and you understand her challenges. She has a thirteen year old daughter, an ex-partner, an occasional lover, and dysfunctional and distant parents. But Kallentoft paints this all in such a way that it is not only credible, but your sympathy for the character is one of mature understanding: you know how she ended up where she is, and you share her viewpoint most of the time. The complex relationships (he said, trying to avoid spoiling the plot) are also credible, and the politics of law enforcement is present without being (boringly) overwhelming.

The smell of her parents’ apartment. It smells of secrets.

And: The characters on the other side of the law are more interesting than the common “baddies in the black hats” sometimes offered as fodder for the story. The plot is solid without being outstanding, though the whodunnit aspect did not keep me guessing for too long. Finally, the writing style is different. As well as the story and the action, the author engages in flights of fanciful writing – imaginary soliloquies of the dead, and ramblings of the killer – which, remarkably, do not come across as padding. Instead, they add to the atmosphere of the book and give a fresh perspective which lingers after the story is over.

Not So Good Stuff: I’m struggling here. Maybe the relationship between Fors’ daughter and the daughter’s boyfriend is given a touch too much space. And maybe there’s not enough of the relationship between Fors and her police partner, Zeke. Hmm. Well, how about this? My paperback says on the front, by way of the publisher’s pitch:

Larsson. Nesbo. Now there’s a new king of crime.

To which I say:

Bollocks.

There’s no doubt this is a fine writing talent, but the hyperbole does not stand up to scrutiny. Perhaps it’s a claim that could be made after a longer career and a series of quality novels. For now, Kallentoft is one of many pretenders to the throne, and for the publisher to say otherwise is an insult to readers.  But apart from the publisher’s pathetic pitch, there isn’t much I would fault with the book. It’s not perfect, but it’s a fine piece of work.

Score: 8/10