Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Åke Edwardsson, Sail of Stone

Åke Edwardsson's "Chief Inspector Erik Winter" series just keeps getting better. Edwardsson's sureness or confidence as a writer shows in a big way in his newly translated (by Rachel Willson-Broyles, in the Simon & Schuster paperback) Sail of Stone, which is a very unusual crime novel. For most of the novel, neither the detectives nor the reader know whether a crime has even been committed. When we do find out, it's not necessarily the crime or crimes that we expect.

This book gives another detective on Winter's team nearly as much time as the boss: Aneta Djanali, who has appeared in previous books: a Swedish woman of African origins, now not fully at home in Stockholm or in her parents' country. There are two cases in the story, neither one really an official case. Aneta is following up on a report of domestic abuse, but cannot make adequate contact with the victim, coincedentally named Anette. Erik is approached by a former flame, the daughter of a family of fishermen, whose father has possibly disappeared while on a trip to Scotland, where he is attempting to trace his own father, reportedly killed during World War II when his ship sank. Now a cryptic letter has arrived from Scotland implying that all is not as it seems.

Aneta is unable to just drop the case of Anette, bouncing back and forth between the battered wife's parents, husband, and his sister without ever being able to contact Anette herself. Aneta feels threatened without the threat being specific or concrete. Erik really doesn't have a case but sends out inquiries to Interpol and his friends in the U.K. seeking information about the missing father, while also talking to the family and other fishermen.

The two stories hardly seem weighty enough for a crime novel, despite the considerable parallels between them, but in Edwardsson's hands there is considerable tension and forward motion, as well as a pair of unconventional climaxes. A good deal of the novel is carried forward in oblique dialogue that's frequently comic in its indirectness. Along the way there's considerable discussion of music (Erik is a jazz fanatic who doesn't care about any other music, while the other detectives have their own soundtracks) and vivid evocations of Göteborg/Gothenburg in Sweden and Scotland from Aberdeen to Inverness. We also get lively glimpses of Erik's and Aneta's private lives, without descending into soap opera.

Edwardsson is one of the best writers in the Swedish crime wave. There's a Swedish TV series based on the Erik Winter books, but so far I haven't been able to find the series on DVDs with subtitles (and my Swedish is not up to the task, unfortunately).


Maxine Clarke said...

I'm looking forward to this one - I read the first three translated titles but decided to give the next two (the first two, in reading order) a miss as I didn't want to go backwards, & the reviews were mixed. This one is still rather expensive in the UK (as these are US, not UK, publications) but I'll get around to it soon, I'm sure.

Glenn Harper said...

Thanks for the comment, Maxine. I actually didn't like the first couple of Winter novels that were translated but the series grew on me, and the most recent ones are very well done.