Jungstedt, Mari - 'The Killer's Art' (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
The fourth, and in my opinion the best, Gotland novel by Mari Jungstedt takes place in a cold and dark February as the owner of a successful art gallery secretly congratulates himself while putting the final touches to his plan to start a new life, away from his stale marriage and routine existence on this small island off the coast of Stockholm. Before these plans can come to fruition, there will be one last exhibition at the gallery, to showcase a young, previously undiscovered Lithuanian artist. Of course, this being a crime novel, things go terribly wrong.
At this point, Andreas Knutas and his team of police detectives step in. At the same time, the media are pushing and clamouring, reporting on the dramatic events and trying to steal a march on the police. Both Knutas and Johan, the TV news reporter who has been integral to the previous novels, are more fully realised than in the previous instalment of the series, UNKNOWN, and the investigation is much more believable and fully rounded this time out. I thoroughly enjoyed all the many twists and turns, particularly the author's knowledge of art and her wonderful back-story of a small group of Swedish artists and their patrons at the turn of the twentieth century. The description of the painting of the "dying dandy" is quite moving, and the story of how it came to be painted is a lovely evocation of a previous era and its values and attitudes.
THE KILLER'S ART, first published in Sweden in 2006, reminded me a little of the atmosphere created by Johan Theorin, whose novels are set in the nearby (or next-door, if that word can be applied!) island of Oland, and of one of Ann Cleeves's Shetland quartet novels, WHITE NIGHTS. Certainly, if you enjoyed those novels, I think you will enjoy THE KILLER'S ART, I am sure enhanced by a sensitive, in-tune translation by Tiina Nunnally.
In the end, the solution to the crime is itself a good one, but there are a few weaknesses to the plot. Some obvious leads are left unfollowed: despite the presence in the Gotland team of a liaison with the Stockholm-based National Police, communications between the two places are pretty poor. And the location of the shocking event described at the start of the book is not explained. Despite these slight flaws, the book is overwhelmingly good - the characterisations of the police and the various tensions between them, and the domestic desires and confusions of Johan and Emma, combine to create a rounded and absorbing novel, lifted even further by the evident love that the author has for her Gotland locations and the wonderful tales of the artistic past.
Read another review of THE KILLER'S ART.
Maxine Clarke, England