Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

I’ve literally just finished Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft and rather than add it to my “Review” pile I feel the need to review the book while it’s still fresh in my mind. I found the book both wonderful and frustrating and I’m trying to work out why. I am a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction. I think the books are largely well written, the authors have individual mannerisms that mean that they’re not a hegemonic whole but can be identified and remembered individually. Many of the books are also that lovely mixture of police procedural and reflective storytelling that seems to fit so well in the cold and sparse landscape.

In many ways, this book has many of the characteristics that I associate with the genre. It is set in one of the coldest ever Swedish winters and police detective Malin Fors is called to the countryside outside the town of Linköping where a man is found mutilated and hanging from a tree in the frozen wastes. Initial investigations suggest that it could be connected the ancient practice of a ‘midwinter sacrifice’, making offerings to the gods in return for happiness. However, the murdered man Bengt Andersson was a target for teenage bullies and his complicated family history may have a role in the crime.

I thought that the book was very well written. It is narrated in the present tense, something I personally don’t mind but not, I know, to everyone’s taste. The book started a little slowly but once it got going I did find it hard to put down. I liked the choppy nature of the narrative as the reader is moved around different characters. I also thought the characterisation was excellent, with minor characters such as Malin’s partner Zeke Martinsson and the journalist Daniel Högfeldt made interesting. He also writes well about the mother/daughter relationship although Malin does seem incredibly liberal in her attitudes.

What didn’t I like about the book? The parts written from the point of view of the dead Bengt Andersson were well written but I’ve come across a few books recently with passages incorporating the voice of the dead victim, most recently Åsa Larsson Until Thy Wrath be Past. The trouble is it rarely accords with what I would consider it like to be dead. I don’t find it distasteful, just extraneous I suppose to the narrative. The ending also left one particular plot strand without resolution. I found this disappointing mainly because the crime had been so horrific and I genuinely wanted to know the reason behind that particular savagery.  It’s unlikely to reappear in future books and I felt slightly cheated by the fact it remained unsolved, particularly as it involved a violent crime on a woman.

But I have to say the book caught me up in its narrative and it became impossible to put it down.

Other favourable reviews of the book can be found at crimesquad.com, crimesegments and at Eurocrime.

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14 thoughts on “Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

  1. Sarah – Thanks for this well-written and thoughtful review. I keep reading both positive and negative reviews of this one. Still honestly haven’t made up my mind to read it, but your fine review is making me wonder now whether I shouldn’t…

  2. Very thoughtful review, Sarah, I agree this is a hard one to pin down. One thing I felt was that the author put too many strands in, eg about Malin’s personal life (daughter, parents, ex-husband, lots of angsting, new prospects, etc) and indeed the crime plot seemed a little unfocused, in that new elements came into it quite late. I also think the translation is exceptionally good here, hard to tell of course, but it seems to me that the translator has really got under the skin of the author, unlike so many clunky, passionless translations I seem to read.
    I think that it was a good book but should have been edited to cut out some of the elements (perhaps the dead man’s thoughts part, as I don’t think that really went anywhere in the end). I am going to read the next one I hope, as I think the author has lots of potential.

  3. Thanks Margot and Maxine. I quite like the plethora of characters in Malin’s life but it did detract from the crime aspect. Having looked at some reviews now I think that most people agree the dead man’s thoughts could have been dropped without hampering the narrative.

    But I too am looking forward to his next book (out in May I think).

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  5. I didn’t care for the dead man’s narration – and given that it disappered for long stretches I’m surprised it wasn’t sorted out at the editing stage – and the loose end I found a little irksome, but I can accept it as sometimes it happens in life.

    The business is maybe because this is the first in a series. I certainly saw enough potential in this to try the next book that comes along.

    • Yes I would say think book has a lot of potential. Interestingly, the publisher has let me know that the plot strand that the plot strand that wasn’t resolved in this book is dealt with in a later book.

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  10. It has taken me two weeks to read this and I dreaded picking the book up each time. I’m not sure if I can articulate why I struggled on or what I found so frustrating but am glad to see I’m not the only one who is not universally glowing about it

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