Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inside the Minds of Linkoping, Sweden

MIDWINTER BLOOD by Mons Kallentoft: "The cold stinks." "Maybe. But it still doesn't seem to have any smell, does it?" I have been on quite a Nordic crime fiction kick lately (along with everyone else), so the publication of Kallentoft's MIDWINTER BLOOD in English (as the first of four novels following Superintendent Malin Fors of the Linkoping police) was exciting for me. While all Nordic crime fiction speaks of cold and isolation, MIDWINTER BLOOD adds another dimension that sets it apart: insight into nearly every character's thoughts, even the dead ones.

It is cold. Bitterly cold. The cold rises from the pages to make the hottest summer afternoon seem chilly. February in Linkoping is always cold, but this winter is extraordinary. Malin Fors is melancholy, musing on her lost relationship, struggling with her daughter's teenage years, dealing with increasingly difficult aging parents. And now with a mutilated corpse hanging from a tree. A professor at the university contacts the police when the scene reminds him of a midwinter pagan sacrifice, which means the killer may not be finished. The escalating mystery is very well-done, with unexpected twists and challenges. The dead man was an obese man who lived on the fringes of Linkoping, but not as an accepted part of it. Was the motive personal, or was he chosen at random, or because of his marginalization, for a ritual?

The dead man thinks, "In a way, it's nice hanging up here." This is not a typical sentence for a thriller, and this is not a typical thriller. The gorgeous language not only describes the cold and unravels the threads of the mystery: it also gives us insight into the character's inner lives. At first, I was not sure the constant interruption of action to share character thoughts (especially of minor or dead characters) was going to work at all for me, but I soon settled into the style and found it illuminating. Fors delves into small-town rumors and innuendo, the torment of the dead man at the hands of cruel teenagers, a strangely isolated family that clings together, and the reader sees their actions and hears their words, but also witnesses their thoughts and feelings. The result is like no other crime novel.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this novel courtesy of the publisher.

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