Jungstedt, Mari – ‘The Dead of Summer’ (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Trade Paperback: 288 pages (Apr. 2011) Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 0385617089
The fifth in the Gotland series is not only well up to standard, but it is a good entry-point for those who have not read the earlier books. The main themes of the novels concern Anders Knutas and his colleagues of the Gotland police; and Johann Berg, a reporter for local TV who usually becomes involved in the same cases as Knutas but from the journalist’s perspective, leading to tensions but also to cooperation that has helped to solve crimes on previous occasions. The men’s personal lives also form a significant chunk of the narrative.
THE DEAD OF SUMMER is a classic tale. A family man goes running early one morning and is later found shot dead on the beach. Knutas is on a rare holiday so his deputy, Karin Jacobssen, begins the investigation, as usual enrolling the assistance of the Swedish national crime squad from the mainland. After 24 hours, though, Knutas is back, unable to leave his colleagues to themselves. Karin is not too happy about this apparent vote of no confidence, but is conflicted about Knutas, who has left his wife and children to continue their holiday so is temporarily single.
The police investigation is getting nowhere, but Johann and his photographer Pia are working on the story, too. They seem at first to make more progress than the police, but their efforts also seem to lead nowhere. For quite a long section of the book, we therefore follow the characters’ personal lives: Johann’s failed relationship with Emma and attraction to a colleague, and the strange tensions between Knutas and Karin. I enjoyed these themes, but if you are looking for a fast-paced thriller, this novel is not it. Eventually, the action is kick-started by two events: that of the docking of a Russian tanker whose crew are suspected of various types of illegal activities; but more crucially, a second murder. At this point, Knutas knows that he has to find a link between the two victims and the crime is likely to be solved. Readers, however, have had the opportunity to put the story together long before the police or the journalists, because we have information denied to both of them. Hence, the resolution of the crime plot is not a surprise, but the final chapters are brought to life by Karin and the inadvertent revealing of her own mysterious past that coincides with the denouement.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, expertly translated as usual (into American English) by Tiina Nunnally. It is very much a timeless mystery novel, however, rather than a book that jumps on any of the current fashionable bandwagons in Scandinavian crime fiction epitomised by Stieg Larsson or Lars Kepler. For my taste, it is none the worse for that!