Sunday Times, 10 March 2019
A haunting tale of abductions in the remote north of Sweden opens our round-up
Northern Sweden is a wilderness. No one knows that better than Lelle Gustafsson, a middle-aged teacher who spends each night searching for his missing teenage daughter in Stina Jackson’s haunting debut The Silver Road, translated by Susan Beard (Corvus £12.99). Named best Swedish crime novel in 2018, it is an unforgettable portrait of a father’s grief. Lina vanished from a bus stop three years ago on her way to school, and everyone who knows Lelle thinks his quest is hopeless.
Then the arrival of a teenager, who comes to live in the town with her alcoholic mother, triggers events that suggest some of their neighbours might pose a danger to women. Lelle’s trips in the harsh glare of the midnight sun proceed slowly at first, but the pace picks up when a second girl is abducted, turning the novel into an unflinching examination of the kind of men who prey on vulnerable young women.
The Boy in the Headlights, translated by Charlotte Barslund (Doubleday £14.99), is the third novel in Samuel Bjork’s bestselling series set in a dysfunctional Norwegian murder squad. Bjork is the pen name of the playwright and singer/songwriter Frode Sander Oien, and the new novel is as clever and twisty as his hugely successful debut, I’m Travelling Alone. His detectives, temporarily dispersed to other units in the Oslo police force, are brought back together by a series of staged murders, beginning with a ballet dancer’s body found in a lake. The next victim is a jazz musician with no obvious connection to the dancer, suggesting that the killer picks victims at random.
Bjork’s novels are full of such theatrical touches, creating a world that bears little affinity to the mundane activities of a real-life murder investigation. His detectives, Holger Munch and his protégée Mia Kruger, are intuitive and infuriating, struggling with demons that threaten to derail the inquiry. But Bjork’s novels are saved by his generous view of human nature, which roots the horrors he describes in the traumas suffered by his characters when they were children.
She Lies In Wait (M Joseph £12.99) is the first adult novel by the children’s author Gytha Lodge. In 1983, seven friends spent a night camping in woods and woke to find that the youngest member of the party had disappeared without trace. When skeletal remains turn up 30 years later, suspicion naturally falls on the remaining six. Lodge tells the story in parallel narratives, placing the events of 1983 alongside the modern investigation in an engaging (if slightly predictable) tale of lust, rivalry and murder.
Unto Us A Son Is Given (Heinemann £20) is the 28th book featuring Donna Leon’s Venetian policeman Commissario Brunetti, who could not be further removed from the troubled detectives of Nordic noir. When his aristocratic father-in-law asks his advice about an elderly friend, a gay art dealer intent on adopting a much younger man, Brunetti’s instinct is not to get involved. A few weeks later, the dealer dies of natural causes and his friends start arriving in Venice for a memorial service. Within hours, one of them is strangled in her hotel, and Brunetti faces an investigation that forces him to re-evaluate the art dealer and his circle. Leon’s novels are unshowy and imbued with the humanist outlook that makes Brunetti such an appealing character