Review: Mons Kallentoft – Savage Spring

Mons Kallentoft is a writer who divides his readers. I’ve reviewed all the books that have been translated into English on this blog andSavage Spring many of the comments, either here or on other reviewers’ sites, suggest that not everyone enjoys Kallentoft’s unusual style of prose. But the series has become one of my ‘must reads’ and I think that the latest book Savage Spring is one of his best.

In the main square of Linköping in Sweden, an explosion outside a bank kills six-year-old twin girls and their mother is seriously injured in the blast. Detective Inspector Malin Fors is called to the scene from her mother’s funeral and like the rest of the team is shocked by the apparently meaningless atrocity. The pain of her estrangement from her own mother, which has its roots in her loveless upbringing, has to be put aside to bring justice for the two girls. However, Malin’s newly acquired sobriety is put to the test by the stresses of the case, family relationships and revelations from the past.

Much of the previous book, Autumn Killing, was taken up with Malin’s descent into alcoholism which culminated in her being admitted into rehab. In Savage Spring, Malin is struggling to stay sober although the lure of drink is forever in her thoughts. The passages involving Malin’s mental state are written with a lighter touch in this book and worked much better alongside the murder investigation. Kallentoft is excellent at showing the long-term impact of alcoholism on a family and even ex-partners who look for new relationships that distance themselves from the past. We also get an insight into why Malin has such a destructive personality and family secrets that remain hidden for decades. These themes resonate with the investigation into the girls’ killing which is bound up with family and dysfunctional relationships. The murders are fairly difficult to read about as it involves small children, although interestingly it’s not always clear who is the abuser and the abused.

As we have come to expect from Kallentoft’s books, we get the voices of the dead, this time those of the two little girls. I thought it worked well here, perhaps because it added to the sense of loss although I appreciate that it’s not to everyone’s taste. The disjointed narrative is also a characteristic of the writer and one of reasons I enjoy the books so much. The fractured nature of the writing echoes both the plot and the characterisation and unsettles the reader to the conclusion.

Savage Spring is probably my favourite in the series to date and suggests the books are getting stronger with each new offering. I’d still like a resolution of the case that has been preoccupying Malin since the first book, Midwinter Sacrifice, but it seems that we are going to have to wait for this.

Thanks to Hodder for my copy of the book. The author’s website is here. The translation, as always excellent, was by Neil Smith.

Review: Mons Kallentoft – Autumn Killing

Autumn Killing is the third book in the Malin Fors series by Mons Kallentoft. The series so far has been distinguished by excellent characterisation and a fragmented narrative style that has suited the often disturbing plots. Kallentoft has taken a brave stance with some of the themes in his books. In thrillers we normally get a resolution of sorts, but Kallentoft has deliberately kept the assault of a young woman unresolved throughout the series. Here, the case is mentioned once more but the overriding theme of Autumn Killing is the disintegration of Malin Fors as the result of her alcohol dependency.

Malin is leading the investigation into the death of Jerry Petersson, a self-made internet billionaire who has used his wealth to acquire Skogså Castle. The family who were ousted from their former ancestral home come under suspicion when Petersson is found dead in the moat, although a teenage car accident seems to hold the key to the killing. Meanwhile Malin, who finished the previous book Summertime Death sharing a home with her daughter Tove and ex-husband Janne, is imploding under the strain of family life. Her drinking is now out of control and impacting on her colleagues, family and the investigation.

Although the effects of Malin’s disintegration dominated this book, I found the portrayal to be moving and entirely realistic. Malin’s denials, puffy face, alcohol tainted breath and skewed view of the world gave her a powerful presence in the book. Tantalisingly, Kallentoft has added another mystery to this book, with hints of an incident in Malin’s childhood which may account for her behaviour. I thought the murder investigation got slightly overshadowed by the focus on Malin’s self-destruction but it still made for a powerful read.

As usual, the book is written in the present tense which I know isn’t to everyone’s taste but adds an immediacy to the writing. As I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, the narrative is very choppy, with short sections taking the reader around the plot through the eyes of different characters. I like this style although once more, we had the narrative voice of the dead man which I’m not keen on.

With Kallentoft’s writing we get a slightly different view of society than that presented by other crime writers. His books are set in Linkoping, a Swedish town with none of the provincial feel of, say Camilla Lackberg’s Fjällbacka. Instead there is an ever-present sense of foreboding. As Autumn Killing is the third book in a quartet I suspect the fourth book, Savage Spring, is likely to the strongest of the series, where divergent plot strands finally come together. I’m looking forward to it.

Thanks to Hodder for sending me a copy of the book.