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Saturday, December 5, 2015

The Shadow Woman. Ake Edwardson (Writer), Per Carlsson (Translation) Penguin Books (2010)

A gripping and very engaging crime story that executes a brilliantly simple idea to astonishing effect. A woman is found murdered in Gothenburg and Inspector Winter leads the investigation. There is a simple and devastating problem for the investigation, the identity of the victim remains elusive. Lacking an identity for the victim the investigation is stuck in neutral gear as all the obvious lines of inquiry are locked without a clear identification. The investigation becomes a problem as the lack of a clear focus put increasing pressure on the team and Winter in particular. As the information is painstaking gathered a second story starts to emerge and the awful weight of the past returns to inflict damage in the present.
 Ake Edwardson takes a very bold step by placing a hole in the centre of the investigation, as much as it distracts and distorts the investigation it has the potential to distract and distort the flow of the story. This does not happen because Inspector Winter retains a powerful and credible focus on identifying the victim and establishing what happened to her. This focus is what provides the momentum for the story that would otherwise be provided by the natural activity of the investigation. The space created by the lack of an identity is not wasted, it is filled by the rest of the cast who have identity related problems of their own, in particular rising racial tensions in the city.
Inspector Winter is a very engaging lead character, committed, very competent and facing a crucial life choice that he would much rater evade, he refuses to abandon the anonymous victim to her fate. Crucial information is allowed to emerge in understated ways that slowly start to pull a picture into focus and make sense of a fractured narrative that finally gives considerable force to the the deeply sad and inevitable resolution.
The plot mechanics are superb, quietly building up to a gripping conclusion as the threads of past crimes start to knit with present ones and a tangled story emerges. The pieces are very carefully arranged and delivered as the scattered information starts to clearly lead in a single direction. Without fanfare Ake Edwardson develops the story in unexpected directions that never seem to be there just for the plot, they all tend to the final end.
Per Carlsson's transparent translation is invisible to the reader. The story is clearly and consistently Swedish, the English never distances the reader from this essential aspect to the story, the ebb and flow of the story are completely natural.
Understated crime is very hard to manage successfully, the possibility that the dramatic tension will drop is always present, Ake Edwardson provides a masterclass in how to to be quiet and deeply engaging at the same time while never loosing sight of the genre requirements.

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