The spring tides are the highest of the year in Nordkoster; the beach will be covered in particularly deep water tonight. Three men on the beach are digging a hole, covertly watched by a young boy. His intrigue turns to horror as he makes out a fourth figure – the woman for whom the hole is intended. Buried up to her neck in the sand, the high tide is rapidly approaching. Still screaming in terror, the victim takes her last breath as water fills her nose and mouth – in her stomach, she feels her baby kick. And her waters break. Twenty-four years later, the abhorrent crime remains unsolved; gruesome violence however is still prevalent after all those years. A gang has been beating up and killing homeless people in parks – worse still, they are filming their attacks and broadcasting them on the internet. The police have their work cut out trying to keep abreast of the crime wave. Olivia Rönning hopes to follow in her father’s footsteps and join their ranks in the next few months after she completes her training; she has only one last hurdle to overcome over the summer break, a challenge from her professor to pick a cold case and solve it. Should be simple, she thinks. Little does she know the world she is getting involved in, the danger she faces and the ugly truths she risks uncovering.
Cilla and Rolf Borjlind are an established crime-writing partnership, with their television credits including the twenty-six Martin Beck films based on the hugely influential Sjowall/Wahloo books, the Swedish adaptation of Wallander and the Arne Dahl Intercrime series, recently broadcast on BBC4. So with this pedigree of screen-writing how did Spring Tide measure up?
Opening with the unsettling murder of a young pregnant woman at the time of the spring tide, twenty-four years previously and now designated as a cold case: a case which a young police trainee, Olivia Ronning, is designated as a summer project. The plot unfolds in a number of directions, bringing the reader into the world of contemporary Sweden and a series of brutal attacks on the homeless community, cold-bloodedly filmed and uploaded to social media sites, a series of attacks that the police are failing to solve. Slowly, the two cases become intertwined, as Olivia joins forces with ex-police officer Tom Stilton, who served with Olivia’s late father on the original spring tide murder investigation, but is now a member of the homeless community, with all the dangers this presents. The central joy of this book is that these two storylines are both equally compelling, and as Olivia’s investigation gathers speed, there is a shocking expose of members of the higher echelons of Sweden’s business community and their rum goings-on, linked to the shady world of the sex-trade. So often in books, there is a sense in the reader that they are wishing to return quickly to one strand over another, but I felt that the interweaving between the two, and the sordid realities they throw up in the overall plot were perfectly executed throughout. The writing is tight, precise and unyielding in its blunt descriptions of this world of sex, violence and human relationships. At times, the realities presented have a powerful emotional affect, particularly in the bonds of friendship between the homeless protagonists, and even more so in the re-assimilation of Stilton into everyday life as he is drawn into Olivia’s cold case investigation, and the inherent dangers that lie within a trip to his past and the capture of a killer.
Despite the grim nature of both investigations, this is a book punctuated by moments of teasing humour, redolent of the lighter side of Scandinavian crime fiction, and the repartee between certain characters, and the throwaway humorous remarks are beautifully placed throughout. Both Olivia and Tom are convincing, empathetic and I loved the, at times, wide-eyed naivety of Olivia tempered against her terrier- like and dogged pursuit of the truth in her cold case, and the physical dangers she never shies away from. She is a lovely character all round in her feistiness, and her sheer empathy to the victims of society ills, which makes the finale of the book all the more poignant as home truths are delivered to her with the force of a runaway train. Tom is a man of exceptional integrity, but fully encompasses the notion of people becoming adrift in society, and the nefarious paths and life choices that can be made- not always the good choices. I loved this multi-layered character and the way that he and Olivia were almost a reflection of each other, despite the wide differences in terms of age and gender, linked by their personal integrity and quest for justice.
So it is with some delight that I read that the second book has been published in Sweden, as Spring Tide is a great opener to a series. With its wonderfully balanced mix of murder mystery, a host of fascinating and multi-faceted characters, and the essential social comment of Scandinavian crime fiction , this was an altogether satisfying read that genuinely kept me reading to the wee small hours. Next one now. Please.
Read another review of Spring Tide here:
(With thanks to Hesperus for the ARC)