Leif G.W. Persson, Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Linda – som i Lindamordet), trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith (London: Doubleday, 2013 ). 5 stars
Opening line: It was a neighbour who found Linda, and, all things considered, that was far better than her mother finding her.
The dedication at the front of Linda, As in the Linda Murder reads ‘for Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – who did it better than almost anyone’. In this newly-translated novel, first published in 2005, author Leif Persson undoubtedly pays homage to the godparents of the Swedish police-procedural, and in particular to the first in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, Roseanna, published exactly 40 years prior to Linda in 1965. Consider the following:
both novels are named after a young female murder victim
- both open with the discovery of the victim’s body, on 4 July and 8 July respectively
- both are set outside Stockholm in smaller Swedish cities (Motala and Växjö)
- both depict the police investigation in exhaustive detail
- both critique misogynist attitudes in Swedish society and foreground the female victim
- and … the murderer’s name in Linda echoes the murderer’s name in Roseanna!
However, the lead investigator in Linda, tasked with solving the murder of 20-year-old trainee police officer Linda Wallin one hot summer night, is no Martin Beck. Meet Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström, also known as ‘that fat little bastard from National Crime’, whose egotistical, sexist, racist, homophobic, vain and supremely-blinkered mind we are invited to see in all its dubious glory. Bäckström is a darkly comic tour-de-force, a monstrous creation who cares solely about his financial interests, maintaining a steady supply of drink, and the welfare of his pet goldfish Egon. His character is used to shine a spotlight on a less-than-heroic side of Swedish policing: while he is busy impeding the progress of the investigation, capable detectives such as Jan Lewin are forced to work around his prejudices and incompetence as best they can.
Thus, at the same time as paying tribute to Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Persson stamps his own style on the Swedish police procedural, imbuing it with a highly satirical edge. Other aspects of Roseanna, such the critique of the press’s prurient interest in female murder victims, are also extended further in Linda (see my earlier post on crime fiction and the media for details).
In the context of Persson’s own work, Linda forms a departure from his first two hugely ambitious novels, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life, which are set against the much larger political and historical backdrop of post-war Sweden and the Cold War. In Linda, the focus is kept deliberately local, with the exploration of the consequences of just one crime, and strongly drawn characters such as detectives Jan Lewin and Anna Holt, as well as the murderer and the victim’s mother. Hats off also to translator Neil Smith, who captures Persson’s dry, satirical tone perfectly.
In sum, Linda is a rich and satisfying read from an author who’s now one of my absolute favourites.
A useful further note from Neil Smith on Persson’s novels – poached with Sarah’s kind permission from the comments of the excellent Crimepieces Linda review – and with a couple of additions from me in square brackets:
Neil says >> As so often happens, Leif’s books are being published in a slightly different order in translation to their original Swedish publication.
The three books Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (Sw. 2002, tr. 2011), Another Time, Another Life (Sw. 2003, tr. 2012), and Free Falling, as if in a Dream (Sw. 2007, tr. 2014), together make up a trilogy entitled ‘the Decline of the Welfare State’.
One of the main characters from that trilogy, Lars Martin Johansson, takes the lead in a later novel, The Dying Detective (Sw. 2010, as yet untranslated) [and appears a bit in Linda as well].
Evert Bäckström [who appears as a secondary character in the ‘Welfare State’ trilogy] is the focus of a further series of books, of which Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Sw. 2005) is the first. He Who Kills the Dragon (Sw. 2008), due to be published in English in October 2013, is the second in the series, and will be followed by Pinocchio’s Nose (not yet published in Sweden). <<
Mrs. Peabody awards Linda, As in the Linda Murder, a wonderfully rich and satisfying 5 stars
With thanks to Transworld for sending me an advance copy of this book.