Review published on April 26, 2012. Reviewed by Marleen Kennedy
A new conference centre is officially opened in Visby, Gotland and everybody who is anybody is present, including Inspector Anders Knutas and his wife. It appears that the evening has been a huge success until the next day, when the body of Viktor Algard, the glamorous party-planner, is found in the centre by cleaners. It soon becomes clear that Algard died as a result of cyanide poisoning and Knutas and his team start an investigation. It isn’t long before they discover that Algard had plenty of enemies. A 16-year-old boy had been brutally beaten up outside a club for teenagers he owned, a boy who is now in a coma and fighting for his life. And the party-planner had recently told his wife of 30 years that he wanted a divorce, much to her surprise and horror. There are also rumours that the victim had recently started a secret affair with an unknown woman. It looks like this might be an open and shut case, but Knutas knows better than to jump to conclusions and is soon proven right when somebody else is attacked.
Meanwhile somebody is remembering his very unhappy childhood. A childhood structured by a domineering, unbalanced and utterly selfish mother. A mother they desperately wanted to please and save, but could please. And while Knutas is conducting his investigation he has his own issues with parenthood. Distanced from his teenage twins he is shocked to discover how little he knows about their lives and finds himself doubting his value as a parent. And that is not the only dilemma he finds himself struggling with.
This is a well written and superbly plotted mystery. Whenever a possible solution occurred to me, it would, soon after, also be put forward by the story-line. The author knows exactly what she wants to share with the reader and when, which keeps the reader engrossed in the story. I found myself trying to stay ahead of the investigation on the pages, almost in competition with Anders Knutas.
The descriptions of Sweden and Gotland in particular are wonderful. The place really comes to live on the pages of this book, as do the people who live there. Because the book gives a voice to various people in different chapters, the reader is getting an inside into both the mystery and the wider lives of the characters as the book moves along. In fact, this is as much a book about certain people living on Gotland as it is a murder mystery and this is a combination that works very well in the hands of Jungstedt. However, this is book number 6 in a series and I can’t help feeling that it would have been a huge advantage if I had read the previous instalments. This story, especially when it comes to the main characters and their private lives, seems to continue a narrative which has started at an earlier stage. And although it is be no means necessary to be aware of those earlier lives in order to enjoy this book, I’m sure I would have gotten more out of this book if I had had prior knowledge about the people in this story.
It seems to me that a lot of the Scandinavian mysteries/thrillers I have been reading in the recent past have been written by journalists, and this book is no exception. It also seems to me that these journalist/authors use their novels to share problems in today’s society as they see it in their stories. In this book the social issue on display is that of young people these days, their attitudes towards alcohol and the mindless violence they seem to be capable of against each other. An issue that is, unfortunately, not confined to Sweden but all too familiar to me from the Irish news headlines.
For me this book was a wonderful discovery. I love the way the author combined the mystery with social and family issues. For me she achieved exactly the right balance between background story and thriller-aspect. It seems I managed to find myself yet another author I will now have to add to my list of favourites.