Review: Mons Kallentoft – The Fifth Season

Mons Kallentoft’s series, featuring detective Malin Fors, is now on its fifth book and is aptly titled The Fifth Season. Kallentoft’s earlier novels featured The Fifth Seasonsingle investigations that were concluded at the end of the books. However, one case has hovered uncertainly in the background throughout the series. The brutal rape of Maria Murvall was first touched up in Midwinter Sacrifice and the police’s failure to solve the crime haunts Malin Fors throughout each subsequent book. In The Fifth Season the case is finally solved.

The body of a mutilated young girl is found in the woods outside Linköping. The method of her killing reminds Inspector Malin Fors of Maria, who is still traumatised and unable to speak following her rape years earlier. When a third attack is identified with similarities to the others, Malin pushes for the cases to be investigated together to discover the perpetrator. But their investigation takes them to the top of Swedish society, and men who are at pains to conceal their role in the crimes.

This is a solid series by Kallentoft that always makes interesting reading. It’s improved considerably since Malin has given up alcohol and the narrative is less concerned with her battles with drink. It’s also good to have the Maria Murvall narrative concluded. It’s been a disturbing case for the reader too and I think has been brought to a conclusion at exactly the right time in the series.

Many of the motifs that we associate with Kallentoft are present in The Fifth Season. The present tense narrative, the voices from the murder victim and the focus on the personal as well as the professional life of Malin. The book could have had an ‘end of era’ feel to it and it’s a credit to the character construction and plotting that this isn’t the case. Instead we get a well-crafted murder story that once more shows the violence done to women.

I know the sixth book is currently in translation which is good news as there’s plenty of mileage left in this series.

Thanks to Hodder for my copy. The translation was by Neil Smith.

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 – Summertime Death

I was a little disappointed not to see the first book by Mons Kallentoft, Midwinter Sacrifice, on the International Dagger shortlist. I thought it an excellent début and I liked the multiple narrative voices. However, the book did get some mixed reviews and the style might not have been to everyone’s taste. Nevertheless, I was interested see how the second book by the writer, Summertime Death, would continue the series.

The setting for this latest book is the stultifying heat of summer in Linköping , a town in southern Sweden. The heat means that most of the population has left the town, including police detective Malin For’s daughter Tove and her ex-husband Janne. Although initially it looks like Malin will have a slow summer, the discovery of a young girl, naked and injured in the town’s botanical gardens means that they are looking for a particularly savage rapist. Unfortunately, the girl is unable to remember anything of the ordeal and the team have to rely on forensic evidence to try and find the perpetrator. When a second girl is murdered and the team can link together the two cases, the hunt is on to find the disturbed individual before he or she strikes again.

Summertime Death was a very enjoyable read which had me turning the pages as I raced to the denouement. The character of Malin Fors came across very well in the first book and I liked that fact that in the second, the author reined in the emphasis on Malin’s drinking and other problems and set her firmly in the investigation. However, when her ex-husband and daughter returned from Bali I felt the book lost some of its pace. I’m never convinced by plot devices where murderer stops choosing random victims and instead focuses on the family of the detectives. This clearly doesn’t happen in real life and I don’t think it particularly works in crime fiction.

The narrative voices contained in the book were all excellently done and movingly written. Kallentoft’s strength is his writing and, once again, I enjoyed his use of language and imagery. My only criticism would be that the structure was very similar to the first novel, for example with the narrative voice of a dead girl, and it would be nice to see the writer break out from this particular model and experiment more. There were some interesting assumptions made in the investigation, particularly relating to a lesbian angle to the assaults which I thought had been arrived at a slightly odd manner but the writer did follow through this thread to the end of the story.

Camilla Ceder – Frozen Moment

One of the strengths of Scandinavian crime fiction is the role that the landscape plays in shaping the narrative. In some of the strongest crime novels coming from Scandinavia, including Mons Kallentoft’s Midwinter Sacrifice and Jorn Lier Horst’s Dregs, isolated communities, and the secrets buried within them, are at the heart of the plotting. This theme is continued in Camilla Ceder’s Frozen Moment where a crime committed fifteen years earlier is revisited  and atoned in the present day.

It is December in a small town in the Gothenburg region and a local garage owner has been shot in the head and then repeatedly run over by a car. Inspector Christian Tell is called in to investigate the strange killing which may have its origins in a local family feud. When a second man is killed in similar circumstances however, Tell has to look beyond the confines of the community and try and link the two murders.

Local journalist Seja Lundberg is attracted to Inspector Tell but has her own secrets. She recognises the first victim and slowly becomes aware that events of fifteen years earlier play a key role in the crime. She must then try to resolve her own involvement in the case with her burgeoning relationship with Tell. He in the meantime is uncomfortable at becoming involved with a witness and finally realise that Seja knows more than she is revealing.

This was a very interesting, albeit slow read where the isolated, icy community dominated the narrative descriptions. I had a strong visual sense of the landscape and the isolation felt by those in such a small community. Another strength of the book was the relationship between Christian and Seja, two older people who have had their share of failed relationships but are attempting to develop something new.

The crime story was well plotted although the parallel story of Maya Granith, set in 1993 I found less interesting. The fact that it was narrated from the victim’s point of view meant that it was a shock when she was killed although this did mean her personality hung over the subsequent narrative .

I found the book an interesting, slowly unfolding read which stayed with me for a long time. I thought the translation by Marlaine Delargy was excellent and am looking forward to future books by this writer.

The book has also been reviewed at the Nordic Book Blog, Reactions to Reading and Eurocrime.