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Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Cruel Stars of the Night. Kjell Eriksson (Writer), Ebba Segerberg (Translation). Thomas Dunne Books (2007)

A subtle and very engaging crime story that follows a superbly described arc of despair. In Uppsala in Sweden a woman reports that her elderly father is missing to the police and it remains unresolved. The murder of an elderly man without any clear motive has the police at a loss. A second murder of another elderly farmer drives the investigation to try and seek out any links between the two murders, a third murder does not clarify the situation. Laura Hindersten, the missing man's daughter finds that her life has reached a crisis and she struggles to find a way out her confusion. The two threads are slowly and carefully knotted together into an increasing dangerous situation that finally arrives at a tension filled and ultimately harsh and fitting conclusion.
The skill with which Kjell Eriksson ties the narrative knot of the story is breathtaking, it is done with precision and extraordinary skill. The disintegration of Laura Hindersten's life is developed with sympathy and no pity. Her mismatched parents emerge from the story with a relationship that seems almost inevitably leading to trouble for their daughter. In particular Laura's father, a stranded academic is a relentless influence on his daughter's life.
The police force, in particular Inspector Anne Lindell, struggle with three apparently motiveless murders that have enough in common to strongly suggest some submerged links waiting to be identified. The cast of police officers are given a wide context which allows them to develop as very rounded and grounded characters. The focus on Ann Lindell, a single mother, very competent professionally, full of doubt and uncertainty in her private life is a great counter point to Laura Hindersten.
Kjell Eriksson has a deep unsentimental concern for his varied cast, they are tested very severely and for the most part cope very badly with the stresses and strains they come under. They are not diminished or belittled for their poor decision making, they are allowed to make mistakes and recover enough from them to continue. This wise humanity drives the story and makes the crime plot credible and gripping. The translation by Ebba Segerberg is transparent, there is no sense that this is not written originally in English except for the utterly non Anglophone tone and spirit that pervades the book. Utterly satisfying to read and relish.

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