” Don’t bother with Stieg Larsson … Kallentoft is better .” So says Magnus Utvik , a leading Swedish book critic in a quote on the back cover of Midwinter Blood , Mons Kallentoft’s latest book . Who can resist a blurb like that ? Not me . And so I read Midwinter Blood , all 454 pages of it , finishing it in two days flat.
The book begins with the discovery , in midwinter, of the naked body of a grossly obese man hanging from a tree branch sixteen feet above ground . He has been severely beaten and knifed before being hung there and the investigating police are mystified by who would commit such a horrible crime, and the reason for it. Why did the murderer go to such lengths ? Is it a ritual killing ? Is this the first in a series ? These are some of the questions facing the police in Linkoping , the small town in northern Sweden where the murder takes place .
As the police tackle the case , the mystery only deepens . The murdered man turns out to be Bengt Andersson , 46 , better known as Ball – Bengt because of his habit of hanging around the soccer stadium during home games , waiting for the ball to be kicked over the fence and then tossing is back . These moments were all that he lived for because he had no friends , lived alone in a dreary but neatly kept room and survived on his social security benefits .
One of those investigating the killing is the book’s protagonist , detective Malin Fors . Malin is 34 , blonde , divorced and the mother of a teenage daughter who has just begun to discover boys . Her parents have retired to the Canary Islands and Malin at times feels unutterably lonely , still mourning the demise of a marriage that imploded as she and her husband Janne grew apart. She has a sometime lover , the journalist Daniel Hogfeldt , but there is no real warmth in the relationship. And so Malin throws herself into her work for which she has a natural bent .
As she digs deeper into Ball Bengt’s background , she finds that he was the son of Cornerhouse – Kalle , an alcoholic womanizer who constantly brutalized his wife and his son . Are the rumors true that Ball Bengt took an axe to his father’s head ? How is Ball-Bengt’s murder connected to the brutal rape of the social worker, Maria Murvall , the only one who ever took an interest in him ? What of her family , the vicious and anti-social Murvall brothers and their domineering mother ? Or was Ball Bengt merely a sacrifice to the pagan gods as the “soothsayer” Richard Skoglof believes?
Slowly , carefully Malin unravels the mystery sometimes going off on her own and antagonizing her partner , the long-suffering ” Zeke ” Martinsson . Along the way, we come to know her colleagues : Her immediate superior Sven Sjoman , experienced if plodding, whose career is winding down ; the police chief , Karim Akbar, a Kurdish immigrant , media savvy , immaculately dressed and a decent bloke but short on experience; Karin Johannison , the forensic pathologist who looks like “a middle-aged Francoise Sagan” and several other characters , all sharply etched.
Midwinter Blood is not the usual police procedural since it doesn’t focus only on the solving of the mystery . It’s more like a psychological thriller .Kallentoft constantly veers off course as he gives us deeper insight into the various characters , and comments on the weather and the setting . There are frequent passages, too, in the voice of the murdered man whose disembodied spirit keenly follows the progress of the investigation. All this slows the pace of the novel and makes it choppy but the same time givies it depth and distinctiveness. I liked the overall style te though I was less than thrilled with the passages in Bengt’s voice, a favorite device of Swedish crime writers that I have come across before .The gory ending is a little unsatisfactory because it leaves one crime unsolved and there is a hint that it will probably be tackled in the next Malin Fors novel.
Midwinter Blood is the first of Kallentoft’s Malin Fors mysteries to be translated into English . There are three others yet to be published and Kallentoft has also signed a film deal .Better than Steig Larsson ?… I don’t think so . Well written , atmospheric and featuring a complex , compelling central character in Malin Fors but a trifle slow and meandering , plot-wise. Well worth a read , though ,for those who like good writing , not merely a good story.