Mons Kallentoft, Midwinter Sacrifice, translated from the Swedish by Neil Smith (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2012 ). An impressive debut and the first in a series featuring talented police investigator Malin Fors 4 stars
Opening line: Love and death are neighbours.
I tend to have an allergic reaction to any cover trumpeting that there’s a new Larsson or Nesbo in town, as nine times out of ten such claims are overblown. However, in the case of the debut novel Midwinter Sacrifice, author Mons Kallentoft shows that he can hold his own in such company at least, with a well-written, page-turner of a narrative, and an impressively-realised female detective.
Set in the city of Linköping in southern Sweden, where the author was raised, the novel makes good use of a ferociously icy nordic winter and the landscapes of the region – dark forests and frozen plains – to create a lyrical, chilling backdrop for the opening crime: the murder and ritual hanging of a local man, who for much of his life was a social outsider. Malin Fors, a gifted police investigator who struggles to balance a demanding job with her role as a single parent following the break-up of her relationship, is called to the crime scene one cold February morning. Together with her partner Zeke, she begins to piece together the events that led to the murder, in a first-class police procedural that repeatedly makes you want to read on (just one more chapter, honest…).
The elements of this crime novel that I particularly liked were: Malin’s nuanced portrayal as a thirty-something woman dealing with the lifelong consequences of her teenage pregnancy; the thematisation of parenting, and the relationships between parents and children (whether infants, teenagers or adults); the depiction of the rest of the police team; the innovative use of the murder victim’s voice in parts of the narrative (difficult to pull off, but effectively done); and a surprise reference to Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything (stylish).
The only aspect of the novel that jarred slightly for me was its ending, which was a little too melodramatic for my taste. However, I’m keen to follow Malin on her next case, in the series’ second novel, Summertime Death, which has also recently appeared in translation. The third novel, Autumn Killing, is out in September, revealing a nice use of seasons to structure the series: spring next, I presume…
You can read an extract from Midwinter Sacrifice here.
Mrs. Peabody awards Midwinter Sacrifice a highly more-ish 4 stars.