With an intriguing title, the meaning of which only comes apparent towards the end of the book, Linda, As in the Linda Murder is an unusual read from the outset. Persson has had two previous titles translated into English but in this latest book, Evert Bäckström, a subsidiary but unforgettable character from Another Time, Another Life is elevated to central protagonist.
Linda is a trainee at the Vaxjo Police Academy who is found raped and murdered in her mother’s flat after returning from a nightclub. Evert Bäckström is sent from Stockholm to head up the investigation, an odd choice given that Bäckström’s work ethic involves him avoiding as much mental and physical effort as possible. Given Linda’s occupation there are a number of serving and trainee police officers who are potential suspects. As the team sift through the evidence, and try to understand why a wary young woman might have voluntarily let a murderer into the apartment, Bäckström does his best to take credit for the successes and distance himself from any real work.
Linda, As in the Linda Murder is a difficult book to review as its merits all revolve around the most obnoxious of characters, the force of nature that is Evert Bäckström. To try to do him justice in a review is difficult as he is both compelling and abhorrent. Sexist, racist, homophobic, facetious, work-shy, dismissive of his team – these are all the characteristics that should make him a repulsive read. But here’s the rub. He is very very funny. I read some of the scenes with a smirk on my face when really I should have been appalled. It is a compelling mix of Persson’s excellent characterisation and Neil Smith’s spot-on translation that you start laughing at Bäckström’s thoughts and actions and then immediately feel guilty.
We get glimpses of other members of the team who will be familiar from earlier books, including Anna Holt and Lars Martin Johansson, but really it is the passages featuring Bäckström that are the most interesting. There is an almost haphazard logic to some of Bäckström’s actions and his cop’s instincts serve him correctly on a number of occasions.
The murder investigation itself is slow paced, reminding me a little of the books of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö where the painstaking police work (not by Bäckström obviously) in the heat of the summer eventually yields results. It was interesting to read of an investigation set in a part of Sweden I know nothing about. Vaxjo in the Smaland region came across as both picturesque and provincial.
I suspect that this is a novel that people will either like or loathe depending on their ability to stomach the central character. It was an unusual read, it could have done with being a little shorter in my opinion but I’m definitely up for more of Evert Bäckström.
Thanks to Transworld for the copy of my book which has also been reviewed at Eurocrime.