Review: Leif G W Persson – He Who Kills the Dragon

HWKtDragonAfter my rant about longer books I’m now unashamedly plugging one that runs to 400 pages. Earlier in the year I reviewed Linda, As in the Linda Murder featuring the wonderful creation, Evert Backstrom. Racist, sexist and work-shy, he is the policeman you don’t want on your team. Yet, in a pattern familiar with those of us who have worked in large organisations, he is shuffled around the Stockholm police and given glowing references by those desperate to get rid of him.

In He Who Kills the Dragon, Backstrom is initially in disgrace, languishing in the property-tracing department and his service weapon removed. However, Anna Holt, the new head of the Western District is asked to have Backstrom as a superintendent in her team to assuage the concerns of the police union who have taken up his grievances. His first case in the new team is to solve the murder of an alcoholic found dead in his flat by a delivery boy who subsequently disappears. Backstrom approaches the case with his usual attitude, a mixture of gung-ho optimism and sly manoeuvring, and astounds his bosses by occasionally hitting the mark. It is only when he is in danger of becoming a national hero do they feel compelled to act.

Given that I found one of Persson’s earlier books, Another Time, Another Life, so difficult to get through I was convinced that Linda, As in the Linda Murder was a one-off delight. However, He Who Kills the Dragon, is perhaps an even better book and it is certainly funnier. Backstrom is the same as ever, except he now has a world weariness about the state of the Swedish police and, in particular, the sexual proclivities of some of his colleagues. I found Backstrom in this book to be a more complex character and his motives are often difficult to discern. He surprises his bosses by his reticence in front of the national press and seems genuinely shocked by the corruption of one of his colleagues. The book must have been a delight to write with such an engaging anti-hero and I’m already looking forward to the next Backstrom instalment.

Thanks to Transworld for my copy. The translation, excellent as ever, was by Neil Smith.

Review: Leif G W Persson – Linda, As in the Linda Murder

LindaWith 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.