There’s plenty of life in Scandinavian crime fiction, though the bodies pile up with especially terrifying speed in this book’s grim milieu.
The hero of Swedish author Söderberg’s debut, the first in a planned trilogy, is Sophie, a young widow who works as a nurse while raising her teenage son. At the hospital, she meets and starts to fall for Hector, who unbeknownst to her, is about to escalate a war with Russian and German mobsters over supply routes for drugs and weapons. Stockholm police are investigating, but true to Söderberg’s peculiar, amoral universe, the cops are as filthy as the hardened criminals. So while Sophie is the novel’s focal point, she feels less like a full-blooded character than a mirror upon which Söderberg can project mockery of traditional concepts of good and evil. One of the cops following Sophie is Lars, a milquetoast prescription drug abuser whose surveillance work takes increasingly obsessive and sexually transgressive turns, while the thuggery of those working under Hector (the Andalucian of the title) has a protective tinge to it. (Only anonymous German and Russian goons are purely blackhearted.) Söderberg is masterful at upending the usual moral expectations for characters like Hector and particularly Lars, whose expansive addiction is rendered as both terrifying and seductive, and the closing chapters so deliberately reverse the stock conceits of vengeance, redemption and recovery that it flirts with satire. Söderberg’s innovations are tempered somewhat, though, by the bagginess of the plotting, overly thick with detail about smuggling schemes. And Sophie’s blankness, however deliberate, makes her so much of a cipher that a tragic turn in the late chapters fails to deliver its intended emotional effect.
Much of this book feels like furniture arranging for the sequels, but there’s enough action and gallows humor in this overture to carry it along. A promising start to a trilogy.