Persson, Leif GW - 'Linda, as in the Linda Murder' (translated by Neil Smith)
During an unusually hot Swedish summer a young woman studying at Vaxjo Police Academy, Linda Wallin, is raped and murdered. The eccentric HNC (Head of National Crime) unfortunately sends Evert Backstrom to lead the team assisting the local police in Vaxjo, which is in Smaland, a particularly religious part of Sweden.
Backstrom is described as "short, fat and primitive" but he is also lazy, egotistical, a heavy drinker, a misogynist and definitely homophobic. Apart from himself the only thing he cares about is Egon, his pet goldfish. The narrative deals with Backstrom's interactions with his colleagues, while the investigation proceeds very slowly and he exploits the situation.
He is accompanied by two young officers - "Detective Inspectors Erik Knutsson and Peter Thoren weren't particular bright sparks but at least they did what Backstrom told them".
Also with the team from Stockholm are Detective Inspector Jan Rogersson, an old, near-alcoholic drinking buddy and virtually useless investigator. Although he was "A good bloke, in Backstrom's opinion, and practically the only one of the people he worked with that he could bear to spend time with outside work".
And "Last to arrive was Detective Superintendent Jan Lewin, who had driven down with their civilian assistant, Eva Svanstrom. It was a bit odd, because they had set off from Stockholm together before all the others and goodness knows how it could take seven hours to drive four hundred kilometres, but they all knew the answer so no-one asked straight out".
The preliminary investigation is to be headed up by DS Bengt Olsson from regional crime in Vaxjo; rated by Backstrom as "Slightly retarded, so things couldn't be better" and as a sympathetic type who has been on lots of courses.
The account of the actual investigation, those passages of realism, the forensic details, interviews, theories, meetings that might be dull in the hands of the less experienced writer are enlivened by Backstrom's antics and tales of Lewin's childhood. And also by a cast of characters that include a slightly mad psychiatrist, a handsome black lover, a difficult Polish neighbour, a "vigilante" group set up to prevent violence against women, and a 92-year-old witness with sharp eyes. These keep the reader glued to the page. There is the clash of cultures between the hill-billy cops and the cynical big city police. Backstrom's views are politically incorrect, and offensive, they are also most of the time brilliantly funny. The reader is invited to laugh at him, not with him. And eventually invited to feel a little sorry for him, because he is so pathetically self-centred.
This is black comedy; this is satire and withering irony blended with a thesis on what has gone wrong with modern Swedish society. The country's class differences, the status of women, immigration and the problem of rape is discussed and it is also a realistic account of a police procedural investigation, but one viewed through a slightly distorting mirror.
LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER is witty and the dialogue is at times devastatingly cruel. This is Scandinavian crime fiction at its very best and it is appropriate that the dedication is "to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo - who did it better than almost anyone". This novel reminded me of my first discovery of the Martin Beck series with the not so subtle difference that Backstrom is the anti-Beck, the classic anti-hero.
This book is very highly recommended for those readers who enjoy top class crime fiction with a message. Mind you to fully appreciate it you need to have a sense of humour, and be not easily offended."Today I'm going to make glue out of the bastard, Backstrom thought as he stood in the shower, letting the cold water prepare him for yet another new day in his life as a murder detective."
This is a long book at nearly 500 pages but it has an easy reading style because of the sympathetic translation by Neil Smith.
Norman Price, England