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.