Aren’t Swedes supposed to be nice socialists? Not if they’re arms dealers, the milieu of this latest whodunit by the Stockholm couple who writes as Lars Kepler (The Hypnotist, 2011).
Scene one: The sister of a Central American peace activist, her skin “the soft golden color of virgin olive oil or honey,” is brutally murdered. The activist’s boyfriend, it seems, may know why. But then comes scene two: The director of the National Inspectorate of Strategic Products—for which read weaponry—turns up dead, too, dispatched most brutally. Mulls the investigating officer, “Joona. I have to talk to Joona Linna immediately.” Et voilà: As world-weary as, if slightly less morose than, Henning Mankell’s Kurt Wallander, Joona Linna, detective extraordinaire, is on the scene. Did we say extraordinaire? Yah, sure: As one cop recalls, “I’d say I’m fairly well versed in forensics...but Joona walked in, took a look at the blood spatters...He knew right away when each murder had occurred.” Things don’t go quite so smoothly for Joona this time around, though, as the novel’s 500-plus pages might suggest. For one thing, those arms dealers are an oily, nasty, evil, sneering and altogether sinister bunch, even if they have nice haircuts and well-manicured nails. For another, there are countless red herrings in herring-rich Sweden. Suffice it to say that Kepler has a most pronounced penchant, à la Larsson, for describing exceptionally nasty criminal behavior (“Answer me! You want me to shoot your wife again or rape your sister?”). And suffice it to say that when the bad guys are finally revealed, it’s not a minute too soon—and not just because those 500-plus pages are 100-odd pages more than the story really calls for.
Overall, less expertly told and deeply layered than a Henning Mankell yarn, less politically charged than a Stieg Larsson caper, and less well-written than any of Janwillem van de Wetering’s procedurals down Holland way—but still a satisfying thriller.