Persson, Leif GW - 'He Who Kills the Dragon' (translated by Neil Smith)
HE WHO KILLS THE DRAGON is the second book by award winning Swedish writer and criminologist Leif Persson in his Evert Backstrom series. The diabolical "small, fat and primitive" Detective Superintendant Backstrom is back, and is the unlikely hero of this story. After stints in the lost property department of the Stockholm police,and a psychiatric hospital, he has been transferred to Solna, a suburban area near Stockholm city centre, and back to homicide investigation, under the watchful eye of the Head of Crime, Superintendant Toivonen. Toivonen has agreed to take charge of the problematic Backstrom, as he sees this as the perfect opportunity to get his own back for Backstrom's mistreatment of him whilst a trainee.
With his cosmopolitan team, Backstrom takes charge of the investigation of what seems to be a typical "pisshead" murder. An ageing alcoholic, Karl Danielsson, was killed in his flat in Solna, apparently hit over the head with a saucepan lid. The attack is presumed to have been carried out by the friend who had shared a meal and drinks with him earlier that evening. Backstrom soon becomes suspicious of Septimus Akofeli, the young African immigrant who found the body whilst carrying out his newspaper deliveries. The extent to which this suspicion is prompted by good instinct rather than blatant racism is doubtful both to the reader and Backstrom's colleagues.
Backstrom remains a rather grotesque character, whose point of view is littered with a constant litany of racist, sexist and homophobic insults, and with a distinctly unsavoury social life. Whilst it would be easy to write Backstrom off as an utterly corrupt, incompetent crude, lazy bigoted oaf, he does have an uncomfortable knack of stumbling upon the truth. Persson's satirical humour doesn't just focus on Backstrom; while his colleagues and superior present a rather more respectable and politically correct face than Backstrom to the outside world, their inner thought processes are shown in some cases to be barely more pleasant or moral.
The Backstrom series has a rather different feel to the 'Story of a Crime' trilogy, as it has a narrower scope. Backstrom is very much the main character in this series, with other more senior police officers and their political manoeuvres being very much a side issue, as is the assassination of Olaf Palme. As there is far less of a political backdrop, this book is a shorter and smoother read than previous books by this author, but the dispassionate and acidly satirical tone remains.
Laura Root, England