Michael Hjorth is one of Sweden’s best known directors and script writers. He has worked on the TV scripts for several film adaptations of Henning Mankell, probably Sweden’s best known crime writer. He is the one that started a trend, so to speak. Hans Rosenfeldt is a TV-actor, moderator, and script writer. Together with Michael Hjorth he is writing the crime novels around the figure of Sebastian Bergmann.
Scandinavian crime novels have been wildly popular in Europe in general, and Germany in particular for years. Many of Henning Mankell’s books for example, were translated into German before they were translated into English. Slowly, the American market is catching on. One reason of course is, that there is already a huge domestic crimenovel/thriller market in the US. Another reason is finding a good translator. Translating literature is a challenge. Another reason in my opinion is that the lines between good and bad are not as clear-cut as in most American crime novels. If you are looking for good policemen/women “doing what’s right” in the style of law and order, this genre in general, and these novels are not for you. They are dark, messy and complicated.
Case in point: Sebastian Bergmann, the main character. Brilliant psychologist and profiler, who is traumatized by the loss of his wife and daughter, who died in the 2004 tsunami in Thailand. Sex addict with a play book that would make Barney Stinson go pale. Rude to the point of inducing cringing in the reader. He hasn’t worked in many years, living of his wife’s life insurance, as he dryly comments.
He is emptying his deceased mother’s house in the city of Västerås. It’s more a chore than anything, because he has been estranged from his parents for a while. Within his mom’s letters, he finds a letter indicating that 30 years ago, he has fathered a child. He happens to run into his former friend and colleague Torkel Hoglund, who, together with his team have been called from Stockholm to investigate a case, and in order to access police databases to find out who the child is, Sebastian inserts himself into the investigation.
The case, oh, yes, there was something…. Between the character development of Sebastian, Torkel, Ursula (the crime scene specialist), Billy (the computer nerd), Vanya (young, dynamic, super-policewoman) and kinda likable but totally incompetent local policeman Haraldsson, the case of a teenager who got shot and had his heart cut out afterwards, sometimes gets a bit neglected. That being said, there a lot of elements that make the book a page-turner: The Christian Elite High School that harbors dark secrets, rebellious teenagers, social inequality (the victim’s mum is not so elite and looked down upon by everyone else), the press looking for sexy headlines, and the police team and their flaws. Sebastian, the cunning schemer, who lies, cheats and betrays to get whatever he has fixated his mind on. Vanya, the egoistical but ambitious police woman, who sees everybody as a threat. Ursula, the amazing crime scene specialist, who loves her job more than anything or anyone (as her lover, her husband and her daughter find out)- you get the gist. What differentiates them from the criminals they are chasing? Not a whole lot, it’s an invisible line, that seems to get re-drawn every day.
The murderer turns out to be someone you’d least expect, and the novel ends with Sebastian finding out the identity of his 30 year old child.
It’s a long book, and while the case is interesting and intriguing, a lot of the book is setting the scene for the entire series. This is not bad, because in spite of their character flaws, you end up wanting to know more about these people, their job, their actions and motivations. And you want to know when or how Sebastian is going to lose it.