Wednesday, July 06, 2011
Cold Swedish noir: Mons Kallentoft
I mentioned yesterday that the newly translated (by Neil Smith, forthcoming in October in the U.K. from Hodder) crime novel by Mons Kallentoft (Midwinter Sacrifice) has a unique style that (at least for me) demands a certain style of reading. The text is frequently allusive and features numerous passages from the point of view of the corpse discovered at the beginning, hanging naked, tortured, high in a tree in the frozen forest near Linköping. The language varies considerably from the fairly straightforward interactions among the police to the very fluid narrative passages, frequently told in sentence fragments.
The style suits the story, which involves urban-rural conflicts and contrasts, cults and the revival of old religions, and the damage that families can do to children. The lead detective, Malin Fors, is a single mother (with a teenage daughter and all the conflicts that that implies). Her colleagues are a distinct group of mostly pretty normal police officers, each with his or her own quirks. The corpse, however, was a damaged man, who seems disturbed and perhaps autistic (though the term is never mentioned) eccentric, if seen from the outside (his monologue after death is surprisingly normal).
The search for the killer or killers is conducted as a police procedural, with more than the usual frustration, perhaps, since no leads give any promise of concrete evidence. There's a dysfunctional family living (literally as well as figuratively) outside the civilized city, a small group worshipping the old Aesir gods, some criminally delinquent teenage boys, a nearly catatonic rape victim and other characters. Some of their stories evidently overlap into later installments of this series (and it will be interesting to see if the author's style changes when his focus changes to other plots and stories),
I tend to appreciate a fairly straight style in crime fiction (allusive, certainly, but perhaps not fragmented in the more poetic style that Kallentoft employs), but Midwinter Sacrifice was very engaging once I got used to the shifts between voices (the narrator's, the corpse's, even a tree at one point) and the dialogue (very realistic) among the cops. The conclusion involves a race to save a trapped victim, but in a way that turns that convention of the thrilling ending upside down and inside out, while also leaving enough unresolved to lead forward to the next installment... Plus I found myself thinking of Sara Lund (from the Danish TV series The Killing) while in Malin's company—a reference that's also made in the back cover blurbs and a comparison that isn't quite accurate but still suggests something of Malin's personality and the tone of the book as well.