For one reason or another Mari Jungstedt had slipped off my reading list, so after a slight hiatus for me in the series it was good to embark on her writing again. This is the eighth of the series to feature detectives Anders Knutas and Karin Jacobsson, and is set against the backdrop of the Swedish fashion world, and all the petty rivalries and skulduggery within it.
The book opens with a vicious attack on fashion photographer, Markus Sanberg, a dislikeable lothario who seems to spend most of his time seducing the young models he photographs. His latest conquest is Jenny Levin, a fresh-faced and naïve girl from the rural backwoods, and the greatest focus throughout the book is her connection to Markus, and the murders that follow this initial attack. We also meet Agnes, a former model, now incarcerated in a clinic, suffering from acute anorexia, and for me, her narrative was probably the most engaging part of the book. We see through her eyes the inordinate amount of pressure put on young girls in the fashion business, and the traumatic aftermath she has experienced in not only her damaging relationship with food, but how her life has been ruined. Slowly, Jungstedt interlinks the experiences of both Jenny and Agnes as the murderer has connections to both, and how Knutas and Jacobsson enter a world largely unknown to them in pursuit of a murderer…
To be honest, I wasn’t completely enamoured with this book, and was thrown initially by the relating of two events that even at the close of reading, I could find no connection to what had happened in the main body of the story. Indeed, I was a little underwhelmed with the plot generally, so other aspects of the book became more important. The story largely consisted of a group of fairly dislikeable characters, arrogant Markus, limpid Jenny and so on, that I found increasingly difficult to care about. As I said previously, Agnes was the shining light amongst a fairly mediocre cast of characters, but probably more so in the fact that she revealed to us the dark side of the fashion world, and the daily difficulties she experiences in trying to overcome her eating disorder. I think most readers could not fail to be moved by her travails, and there is a huge amount of poignancy in Jungstedt’s portrayal of her, particularly in relation to the events near the close of the book. Detectives Knutas and Jacobsson do not seem to have moved on an incredible amount from the last time I read this series. There is still the air of unrequited love bubbling below the surface, but I did enjoy the sharper focus placed on Jacobsson’s reunion with the now adult daughter she gave up for adoption. Their handling of the investigation was fairly straightforward, unveiling few surprises along the way, and the murderer was not exceptionally well-disguised.
In fairness to Jungstedt, whose previous books I have largely enjoyed, I will file this one away as a ‘bridging’ book in the series, with the hope that the next outing for the likeable Knutas and Jacobsson is a good deal more fulfilling. A normally pleasing detective duo, but not given room to shine in this one.
(With thanks to Doubleday for the ARC)