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Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Killer's Art. Mari Jungstedt (Writer). Tiina Nunnally (Translator). Corgi Books (2010)

An enjoyable crime story that never quite engages. The body of a well known art dealer is found hanging from a gate in the old city wall in the Swedish city of Visby. Superintendent Knutas leads the investigation which does not find any quick or obvious motives or suspects. A theft from a Stockholm museum that clearly has a link with the murder opens up new lines on inquiry while adding to the confusion. The final unraveling is nicely murky and unpleasant. The plot mechanics are well developed, the reveals are well staged and the nasty business at the heart of the story is well thought out. Mari Jungstedt uses genre structures and expectations well, playing with some and against others effectively keeping the reader a little off balance.
The significant problem that the story has is the cast, they do not lift sufficiently off the page and emerge into independent life. There s a somewhat flat note in the writing which renders the cast more functional than engaging. They are varied and individual, care is given to make then clear and more that just puppets of the plot mechanics. While the cast combine nicely with the plot threads to keep the general level of interest high enough, I always had the sensation of reading the book. I never quite fell into it the way I normally do. The flatness was most noticeable at the climax when the reasons for the actions became clear. There is a welcome and nasty brew at the heart of the story, the impact is muted and it does not quite have the bite it should.
On the other hand the frantic efforts to find a missing person are delivered in a gripping fashion, the pressure of time gave it a genuine urgency and lifty that is missing elsewhere.
The context , geographical and cultural for the story are among the strongest features of the book. The city of Visby and the surrounding country emerge quietly and effectively as a real landscape that gives the cast a much need lift by providing a credible physical context for the action. The cultural landscape, the art market in Sweden is unobtrusively developed and filled, the details are included in a natural and supportive way. While it does not catch fire it remains an enjoyable read.

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