FROZEN MOMENT is a substantial, rounded novel and a welcome newcomer to Scandinavian crime fiction. It is set in the remote hamlets and countryside in the Gothenberg region, providing a rich sense of the hard lives people lead there, as they struggle with out-of-date farms and small businesses, or just don’t have much of a living at all and have to cope as best they can, often alone. It’s a pretty grim place, and very cold indeed, as most of the book is set around Christmas time.
The plot begins when Ake Melkersson drives to work early one morning, on his last day before retirement. He has trouble with his ancient car and, recalling a garage where he once stopped for fuel, drives there, only to discover the dead body of a man on the workshop floor. In a panic as the death is clearly not a natural one, he calls his neighbour, a younger woman called Seja, to ask her to come and wait with him while he calls the police. Seja has a strong but strange reaction when she sees the body, and asks Ake to pretend to the police that they discovered it together, in the hope that she can find out more about what has happened.
Subsequently, we follow the police investigation, getting to know Christian Tell and his colleagues as they struggle to find any reason why the garage owner has been killed. Some long-standing family grievances come to light, but nothing that provides any motive for murder. In parallel with the investigation, the personalities of the police team come into focus, as we share the internal monologues of several of them. Christian and Seja are both alone, having recently split up with their respective partners, and they teeter on the brink of a relationship, though Christian is hampered by all kinds of emotional baggage and, later, prejudices as Seja tries to understand her feelings about the death. Eventually, the police discover there has been a similar murder in a nearby district, so their efforts become focused on whether and how the two crimes could be related.
Maya Granith is a teenager with a highly disturbed, controlling mother. Maya tells her story (which takes place some years before the current murders) – she spent time hanging out round the local bus station, then at 15 left home to enrol in a “craft school” in the forest. There, she met an older woman called Caroline, and started an affair with her. After a couple of years, she decides to visit her mother and younger brother to see if she can repair relations.
Eventually all the pieces come together as Christian and his colleagues, as well as Seja, realise through a haze of memories (in Seja’s case), and after torturous trawling through social service records in the case of the police, how the story of Maya is related to the two deaths. In one sense there are no surprises, but the author’s intent is mainly to take her time to present a portrait of a region and its inhabitants, and to look at cause and effect from many different perspectives. I very much enjoyed this novel, which is excellently translated by Marlaine Delargy, and look forward to reading more by this talented author.