Jansson, Anna - 'Killer's Island' (translated by Enar Henning Koch)
Sweden's popular summer holiday destination, the island of Gotland, plays host to this police procedural featuring a dedicated, if somewhat troubled, group of officers as they track vicious murderers in the idyllic location. The book opens when one of the island's policewomen, Maria Wern, walks home late one night and stumbles across a teenage boy being savagely beaten. She intervenes, though being unable to ward off three attackers on her own, cannot do much more than try to protect the boy from the worst of the damage and for her troubles is injected with a blood-filled syringe which the perpetrator leads her to believe is infected with something horrid.
Sidelined from this investigation because of her direct involvement, Maria is soon investigating another, seemingly unrelated crime while she anxiously awaits the outcome of tests to determine what, if anything, she was infected with. A young nurse is murdered in a particularly horrific manner and the police are somewhat hampered in their investigations due to a lack of evidence. Suspects however are in abundance as police consider the motivations and opportunities of the woman's husband, lover, neighbours and co-workers.
The complex story is revealed at a cracking pace, allowing both for the many-threaded mystery to be unravelled as well as for lots of development in the personal lives of the main characters. Working out how many culprits they should be looking for and who those culprits might be stretches the small police force to its limits and Jansson has done a good job of showing how painstakingly slow it can be to piece together the elements of a crime when there is precious little evidence to go on. I did find the ending of the novel a little implausible but there are, I suppose, only a limited number of ways such stories can be wrapped up.
Although the first book of this series to be available in English it is the eleventh in a series and this probably helps to explain why there were points at which I was a little lost in the parts of the story dealing with the personal lives of the characters and these do take up rather a lot of the story. Still there is a rich tapestry on display here which will appeal to those readers who enjoy seeing how their fictional police people operate after hours. Maria is in a relationship with a fellow policeman but he is still recovering from a shooting incident he was involved with prior to this novel and there are other troubled relationships too. Erika, the island police force's forensic specialist and Maria's close friend had just become involved with a local doctor but is competing with his young daughter who has had her father all to herself for many years.
KILLER'S ISLAND offers what I have come to think of as the European-style police procedural where there is equal weight given to the crime solving itself and the personal lives of those involved in solving the crime and is a solidly entertaining example of its genre. It's a shame that non-Swedish readers only have the option to break into the series at this relatively late stage but there is much to recommend the book to those looking for a new set of Swedish crime solvers to meet.
Bernadette Bean, Australia
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.