Kennedy Karlsson believed that it had all started with his name. There wasn’t really much else to blame it on. … No, it was all about the name. He assumed that she [his mother] wanted to call attention to herself and show that she had been out in the big world, even though she came home with her tail between her legs. He would always be a reminder of that. So she never missed a chance to tell someone that her eldest son was named after John F Kennedy, ‘because during her years in the USA she had admired that man so much.’ He wondered why she couldn’t have simply named him John, in that case.
Setting: The resort town of Fjallbacka, Sweden.
Story: A missing girl is found, murdered, with the remains of two other murder victims who disappeared 20 years previously. Detective Patrik Hedstrom is the policeman who tries to find the person (or persons) responsible. His challenges (apart from the passage of time since the first two killings) include an incompetent colleague, inexperience, and a lack of clues. Then, another girl goes missing… If that were not bad enough, his home life is not exactly a place of peace and quiet where he can recharge his batteries; his pregnant partner is overrun with unwanted visitors, and struggling to cope with their unreasonable demands. But Hedstrom battles on, setting the sights for his investigation on the Hult family, a collection of diverse, largely unpleasant characters well suited to be suspects.
Good Stuff: The writing mimics the small town setting: it is not pretentious, has no airs and graces, and just gets on with the job at hand of delivering the story. There are few diversions from the plot, and the inbuilt observations about daily life, police work, and murder, do not jar. The characterization is good and spreads beyond Hedstrom and his partner. The author takes time, but not too much of it, to craft realistic personalities for the supporting cast. The whole cloth is believable, frighteningly so. Also, the horror of the killings, and the rationale put forward by the baddie, come across as a powerful mix of revulsion and intrigue. The translator – Steven T Murray – did an excellent job. The text flows naturally and there’s no hint of any struggle to get Swedish idioms converted into English. Murray has also translated Stieg Larsson and Henning Mankell.
Not So Good Stuff: Occasionally, the author strays off the path of excellence, and indulges in “tell” rather than “show”.