Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"What kind of haunted house is this that you live in, Erik?"

. . . She thought of the neighbors, could see the stairwell in her mind's eye. That stark, unpleasant light when she emerged from the lift. When she came home tonight she'd had a momentary urge to creep up to Mrs. Malmer's door and listen. The memory almost made her smile. Was it something to do with her pregnancy? Anonymous phone calls. Mrs. Malmer's midnight masses. She was smiling now.

Åke Edwardson (1953-) of Gothenberg, Sweden has won three awards from the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers. The ten novels of his Chief Inspector Erik Winter series have been translated into twenty languages.

Despite my current celebration of the joys and freedom of summer, and not to mention my disdain for New York's harsh winters, I nevertheless found myself with a very wintery book. Sun and Shadow (Sol och skugga, translated by Laurie Thompson) was published in 1999 and is set in September through January of that same year. Anyone old enough will remember the excitement for the approaching millennium tinged with fear of a Y2K disaster. Although the latter is never mentioned, a sense of disquiet underlies the city of Göteborg (Gothenburg) that is further heightened by a horrifying double murder. A couple has been found dead in their apartment, their heads removed and switched, with the proverbial message in blood on the wall. Enter the appropriately-named Erik Winter, the youngest police chief in Sweden, currently dealing with his father's death and girlfriend Angela's pregnancy.

Sun and Shadow is distinctively northern in mood: cool and stark. Walking the line between contemporary and historical fiction, it has the feel of another era when the world stood waiting with both dread and anticipation. The murders and the ominous events surrounding them play off one another as a series of doubles: the Scandinavian cold and Spanish heat, Winter's hopefulness and another's despondence, family happiness and family dysfunction, birth and death. While daily life goes on, Göteborg has its seamy side as well: alcoholism, swingers, and expressions of violence in morbid fashion shoots and that characteristic Scandinavian metal, which by the way I love. The killer apparently has a fetish some obscure band described as "[sounding] like something from another world" with a drummer "having an epileptic fit" and a cement mixer thrown in. For maximum Scandinavian scary-beautiful, I'm thinking early Tristania.

Those wondering how a peaceful land like Scandinavia ever produced such music may also wonder at the explosion of Scandinavian crime/detective fiction (thanks in no small part to Stieg Larsson). Critics have pointed to the perceived failure of the welfare state and immigration as popular inspiration, evoking wealthy, progressive countries floating atop turbulent undercurrents. Despite its cast of middle-class native Swedes, Sun and Shadow reveals these tensions as well and may be considered a good example of its genre. A good snowy day book, but a literary one.

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Vintage Reading said...

I like the idea of reading a book with a snowy setting in mid-summer. Not sure if I could read the decapitated and heads switched thing, though. I'm a bit squeamish!

E. L. Fay said...

Don't worry, it's not graphic at all. The story is very character-driven with a big focus on Erik's personal life. In fact, I was initially annoyed that the book spent so much time in Spain with the father's illness and death because it seemed extraneous. It's very much a literary detective story.

Richard said...

I've had Edwardson recommended to me before, but something about both him and Nesbo put me off enough to keep postponing a first book with them. Your post reassures me, slightly, esp. since I knew not to click on the Tristania link this time, ha ha. Cheers!

E. L. Fay said...

You don't know what you're missing! I actually plan on doing an ode to Tristania sometime in the near future.

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