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.

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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.

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.

The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.