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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Midwinter Sacrifice. Mons Kallentoft. Neil Smith (Translator). Hodder (2007)

Superb Scandinavian crime story with a engaging and likeable lead character and a satisfyingly chilling story. A body is found hanging from a tree in a frozen deserted plain outside of the town of Linkoping. That it is not a suicide is clear from the outset and Inspector Malin Fors has a difficult case on her hands. The investigation is managed with care and thoughtfulness and steadily gains a focus. A second murder adds to the urgency and the final unraveling is as bleak and savage as the winter itself.
Malin Fors is a great charachter, she is an effective police officer, forceful and determined and also a credible divorced single mother. She is not burden with the genre cliches of being a loner with a no real existence outside of the work. She has an active and plausibly stressed private life that she does her best to manage without being stupid. Her relationship with her teenaged daughter and her ex-husband are full of complications and distractions and they give her a very strong context from which to work.
She is surrounded by a vivid and lively cast that are all pursuing their own agendas and as they overlap and sometimes clash the friction generate very enjoyable heat and light. The plot threads entangle the cast and the reveals are cunningly staged. The way that historical ideas of sacrifice, human and otherwise, are used and abused by contemporary worshipers of long gone gods and spirits is nicely explored.
The narrative is broken up among the cast to very good effect, it gives the story a greater depth and weight as the reader sees  the cast act in their own right both involved directly in the investigation and otherwise. The community that surrounds the investigation is revealed and the wider context for the killings and their impact is made clear
The horrifying truth at the root of the killings is slowly revealed and is sad and desperate with a great may victims and a cruel and vicious act leading to cruel and vicious consequences long after the event. The plot mechanics are subtle and very effective, the steady accumulation of evidence and the increasing focus of the investigation force the pace of the action. In the end an incomplete and brutal justice may have been done and that may the best that could be hoped for.
The translation is happily transparent, it is clearly a Swedish story, the language never jars or suggests anything else, it bring out the frozen majesty of the Midwinter with care and force. A great read.

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