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.

Review: Jo Nesbo – Phantom

Jo Nesbo led the charge of Scandinavian noir in the UK when The Devil’s Star was published in 2005. It introduced the inimitable Harry Hole and Nesbo’s unique take on the darker forces of Norwegian crime. Following its success the books were then translated more or less in order, starting with The Redbreast. More recently the standalone, Headhunters, was published which I found disappointing so I was looking forward to the return of the alcohol ravaged Harry Hole and his dysfunctional approach to policing.

I’ve always enjoyed Nesbo’s books but what I found when I came to reading Phantom was that I couldn’t remember where we had left Harry Hole the detective. Nesbo’s books are weighty thrillers with complex plots and, perhaps because the very early books haven’t yet been translated, there is a sense of dislocation when it comes piecing together Harry’s life. This book was similarly complex, but I found some of the plot themes of previous books coming together.

Harry Hole returns from exile in Hong Kong to help exonerate Oleg, the son of his former girlfriend Rakel, from a murder charge. Oleg has become mixed up in the dealing of a new drug on Oslo’s streets. Named ‘violin’, it is a synthetically manufactured opiate with devastating effects. When the drug’s main dealer Gusto is found murdered, DNA evidence implicates his closest friend Oleg. By returning home to face old and new adversaries, Harry also has to reflect on his shortcomings as a father figure to Oleg as he was growing up.

The book’s central theme is drugs – the damage inflicted by the substances themselves and by the dealers, pushers and gangs that operate openly in Oslo’s seedier districts. The descriptions of that life are detailed and convincing and Nesbo cleverly shows that although faces and the nature of the substance may change, the way of life remains constant. Even a sub-plot involving a drug smuggling airline pilot is effective in showing the human face of the drug industry. The creation of ‘violin’, a new generation of drug was well thought out as was the development of a character known only as ‘Mr Dubai’ who is seen through the eyes of the ambitious and damaged Gusto.

As we would expect from Nesbo the plot was convoluted and the different narrative voices moved the drama around the city and between the past and present. The voice of the dead Gusto was initially quite irritating (I don’t like narrations from dead people, which is becoming a motif in Scandinavian crime fiction – see Midwinter Sacrifice and Until Thy Wrath be Past ) but showed us the evil of Mr Dubai in a way that wouldn’t otherwise have been possible. There were also some humorous moments involving Harry, such was when he sewed up his cut throat with a needle and black thread. Only Harry Hole could get away with this.

The phantom of the book’s title is eventually revealed and the narrative concludes leaving a number of possibilities for the future of Harry Hole. I found this book a return to form for Nesbo and could only marvel at the story he created.

Other reviews of the book can be found at Eurocrime , Crime Fiction Lover. and Milo’s Rambles.

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.