The first of Torquil MacLeod’s series featuring Swedish detective Anita Sundström , with two further instalments already published: Murder In Malmo and Missing In Malmo. The book opens with the apparent suicide of a young female student at Durham University, from where the story moves forward twenty five years and we first encounter Ewan Strachan, a less than talented journalist working for a tinpot local magazine in the North East of England. Getting wind of Strachan’s former involvement at university with a high-profile film director, Mick Roslyn, now based in Sweden, Strachan is despatched, not altogether unwillingly, to Malmo to interview Roslyn, and Roslyn’s glamorous wife, the actress Malin Lovgren. However, Strachan quickly comes to the attention of Swedish detective Anita Sundström and her team when he stumbles upon a murder scene- Roslyn’s wife has been strangled and Strachan is put firmly in the place of chief suspect. As the investigation progresses, however, Sundström becomes increasingly attracted to the unprepossessing figure of Strachan, and proving his innocence has serious ramifications for our intrepid detective. And just what are Roslyn and Strachan concealing about their university years?
I think the first thing to say about this book is that I enjoyed the characterisation very much, both of hapless journalist Ewan Strachan, and of MacLeod’s keynote detective Anita Sundström. Strachan was portrayed as a wonderfully underperforming, unfulfilled waster, who let’s face it would never get within an inch of a Pulitzer for his journalistic output. I thoroughly enjoyed his seeming lack of confidence when Sundström begins to take a more than professional interest in him, and his whole little-boy-lost demeanour as he struggles to get to grips with both his potential involvement in a murder, and the trials of dealing with this in a strange country. Equally, Sundström played a significant part in my enjoyment of the book, not being too weighed down with the usual cliches that attach themselves to female detectives, and for the most part carrying a credibility about her character throughout. I was slightly perturbed with the building romantic involvement between herself and Strachan, but think that MacLeod largely succeeded in the believability of their growing attraction. He handled the balance of Sundström’s professional investigation and character well with a sub-storyline that could have caused all manner of pitfalls. Generally, the plot was well played out, and as the events of past and present became more intertwined, my attention was kept focussed by the slow reveal of the skeletons in Strachan’s and Roslyn’s past. However, I would slightly take issue with the ending, as I did experience a growing feeling of ‘oh- he’s not going to do that at the end is he?’- as the murderer is revealed. Maybe my prolific crime reading has bitten me on the bum again as I did feel a little dissatisfaction with the denouement.
It’s always interesting to see how a non-native author depicts a country and its residents based on an outsider’s experience, as MacLeod is a Scot by birth, but obviously has a comprehensive and affectionate knowledge of his Swedish setting. Tempered by the interesting depiction of some very familiar locations to me in the North East of England, it would be fair to say that he achieves this well. My only criticism would be that sometimes, I did feel a little more immersed in his detailed travelogue than was strictly necessary, and that the level of detail he applies to the Swedish locations did feel a little too in depth at times, at the expense of driving the plot forward more quickly, and as we entered another network of streets and buildings, I did lose interest slightly. However, I did accrue some little nuggets of local information that could make me look more interesting at social gatherings, so all was not lost.
In fairness, much of this book worked when looked at as a whole, and as a pre-cursor to my reading of further books in the series, garnered enough of my interest to see how the series progresses. I’m always keen to discover new Scandinavian set crime so MacLeod is another good find to add to my list. Anita Sundström, we will meet again…
(With thanks to McNidder & Grace for the ARC)