Jungstedt, Mari - 'Unseen' (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Another excellent author in the vibrant Swedish crime-fiction scene, Mari Jungstedt has written an involving and suspenseful novel based on the island of Gotland, near Stockholm. UNSEEN opens with a description of a dinner party at the house of a young professional couple, Helena and Per, where things get a bit out of hand. The next morning, Helena goes for a walk on the misty beach and is later found murdered, together with her faithful dog.
The subsequent police investigation is headed by Inspector Anders Knutas, a sensitive, middle-aged man who is irritated by the intrusion of the media into the case, who have discovered and want to reveal salacious details. Reminiscent of the Kurt Wallander series by Henning Mankell, Knutas and his close-knit team solidly look into all leads, investigating the dead woman's friends and family, in the process revealing much about the lifestyles and history of Gotlanders.
A strength of this author is the way she depicts family relationships: the portraits she provides of the dead women's lives (yes, there are more victims after the first) and Knutas's warm relationship with his wife, are intimate and insightful.
Two investigations are running in parallel: in one, the police attempt to track down the murderer, as Knutas and his team comes under increasing pressure from local politicians keen not to lose the island's main industry, its holiday trade; and in the other, TV journalist Johan Berg rushes to fulfil his editor's demands to fill the news schedules with new titbits about the case. In the process, he learns as much if not more than the police themselves, and an uneasy truce develops between him and Knutas. Eventually, Johan becomes too close to one of the witnesses, as events escalate to a climax.
The author manages to pull off a difficult challenge, in making us understand, if not sympathise with, the villain of the piece. This is one of those books where there are occasional interludes into his thought processes, a device that has become cliched in this type of fiction, but here is used with assurance to gradually reveal more information and to build up to a credible motive. In the end, the police turn out to have been rather slow to have picked up on some leads that in retrospect seem quite obvious, which leads to a nail-biting climax on the tiny northern island of Faro, famous as the home of film director Ingmar Bergman.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. The translation, by Tiina Nunnally (into American English) is a little hesitant in the first few chapters, but soon the sentences flow as this absorbing book builds up to its satisfying conclusion.
Maxine Clarke, England