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Jungstedt, Mari - 'Unspoken' (translated by Tiina Nunnally)
Paperback: 256 pages (Jan. 2008) Publisher: Doubleday ISBN: 0385612745

As with her debut novel UNSEEN, Mari Jungstedt sets UNSPOKEN on the Swedish island of Gotland; many of the same characters feature. Six months after the events of the first novel, winter is setting in, and Chief Inspector Anders Knutas and his team hear of the discovery of the body of Henry Dahlstrom. Dahlstrom was a professional photographer, but had lost his business and his family due to alcoholism. As UNSPOKEN opens, Dahlstrom has a big win on the horses, but before he has chance to drink away the proceeds, he is found murdered in the basement of his apartment block. Knutas and his team dig into the life of the dead man, interviewing his various drinking companions and following up other leads. It isn't until Johan Berg, the news reporter who featured in UNSEEN, returns to Gotland, that a significant lead is found. Johan's return to the island allows him to resume his on-off relationship with schoolteacher Emma. In UNSPOKEN, reality has set in since their initial encounter, as Emma wrestles with her love for her children and for Johan, trying to reconcile her sense of duty with her feelings.

In the meantime, a far darker tragedy is playing out. Fanny is an unhappy 14-year-old schoolgirl with no friends her own age. Her mother is an alcoholic who thinks only of herself, depending on Fanny for most of her emotional and practical needs; her father is an African musician who already had a family when he had a brief affair with Fanny's mother, and whose contact has been sporadic at best since the girl was born. Fanny's insecurities and loneliness make her easy prey for an older man, who is initially friendly but who turns out to have a far more sinister interest in the teenage girl. These sections of UNSPOKEN are truly uncomfortable to read, as the author effectively conveys Fanny's experiences of living with an alcoholic, emotionally immature mother and the claustrophobic sense of dread as Fanny's predator draws closer, seemingly aware that the girl has nobody to help her. Eventually, the girl vanishes after a shift working at the stables, and her mother reluctantly calls the police.

Knutas and his team continue doggedly to follow up the leads in the two cases, more than once wondering if they are related, but without any evidence. The story is told against the backdrop of Knutas's domestic life as well as the irritations and small pleasures of the interactions between the members of the police team. The relationship between Emma and Johan becomes increasingly desperate, both of them longing to be together, but Emma increasingly unable to reconcile her love for Johan with her role in her family.

UNSPOKEN is a great read, particularly strong in conveying the frailties of human emotion and in the juxtapositions of the police investigation with the media's reporting as well as the domestic lives of the characters. In the end, the solution to the cases is a bit of a cheat, as the identity of the villain relies on information we were not told earlier in the book, and has rather a "pulled out of the hat" sense to it. But the human dramas remain, and I look forward to reading more about Gotland in Mari Jungstedt's next book.

Read another review of UNSPOKEN.

Maxine Clarke, England
May 2008

Maxine blogs at Petrona.

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 26/07/2009 10:26