MacLeod, Torquil - 'Meet Me in Malmo'
Sweet but useless journalist Ewan Strachan works for a failing northern English newspaper, having recently been downgraded to working for the monthly lifestyle part of the operation. Strachan is lazy, thinking nothing of copying from elsewhere the articles he "writes" and not in the least able to summon up the enthusiasm for chasing scoops. Desperate to cling on to his job somehow, he attends a showing of an award-winning Swedish film because the director is an old undergraduate friend, Mick Roslyn, with whom he has lost touch. After the two make contact again. Roslyn, who has become a celebrity in Sweden, invites Strachan to Malmo for an interview for a feature, and Strachan manages to persuade his boss to pay for the trip.
On arrival in Malmo, Strachan is plunged into a nightmare when he turns up to do the interview and discovers the body of Roslyn's wife, the star of the film. The ensuing police investigation into this murder is mainly told from the point of view of Anita Sundstrom, an inspector who is highly competent yet who has to put up with sexism and discrimination from her boorish, sometimes less intelligent, superiors. Sundstrom and Strachan strike up a friendship, as the investigation continues down several avenues – could the murder be a crime of passion, a political conspiracy, the work of a deluded ex-serviceman, or an act of vengeance?
There is a lot of detail packed into this 200-page novel. The first section, introducing us to Strachan and his life in England, is too protracted, but the pace picks up once the action shifts to Malmo. The police investigation is told with confidence, the author ringing the changes as new information and suspicions continue to come to light even after initial leads look as if a quick solution has been found. Anita Sundstrom is an attractive character, divorced with a teenage son who is at university, a workaholic and domestically disorganised. Her friendship with Strachan, and indeed Strachan's visit to Malmo, provide the author with a wealth of opportunity to compare Swedish and British behaviour and culture, as well as providing the reader with a great deal of information about the history and geography of Malmo so that if you should ever visit this city, I recommend taking this book with you.
In the end, I felt that the author had been rather unfair in what he chose not to reveal to the reader earlier in the book amid a wealth of other details, for no apparent reason. All the lines of evidence about the mystery come to a climax at the same time to keep the reader guessing right to the end, which is cleverly done, but quite a few aspects depend on facts not having been checked thoroughly or last-minute back-story and revelations that are somewhat plucked out of the air. I do think the ending is something of a cheat, but even so this is a readable, entertaining debut novel; I hope that Anita Sundstrom will be assigned to more cases in future books.
Maxine Clarke, England
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