Kallentoft, Mons - 'Midwinter Sacrifice' (translated by Neil Smith)
MIDWINTER SACRIFICE is the fourth novel written by Mons Kallentoft, the first of a series of five books featuring a female police inspector called Malin Fors, and the first to be published in the UK. The book is set in the provincial town of Linköping, Sweden, where Kallentoft himself grew up. It is the depths of midwinter, and one of the coldest Sweden has experienced for some time. A passing driver discovers a naked man hanging from a tree on the outskirts of the town. The dead man is covered in cuts, and has died from head injuries incurred before he was hung up and displayed. Malin and her partner Zeke Martinsson are called to the scene, and they continue to work on the subsequent investigation with other members of the investigative team. The first task is to discover the identity of the victim, which they do by taking a photograph of the dead man, and releasing it to the press. The victim turns out to be an eccentric loner called 'Ball-Bengt', who comes from a dysfunctional family in which the father drank himself to death. Why was this seemingly inoffensive man picked to be the 'midwinter sacrifice'? Malin and Zeke and the rest of the team work on various leads from links that range from new age hippies who advocate killing of small animals as midwinter sacrifices, to the possibility that Ball-Bengt was killed by someone who knew him, perhaps even from his own family.
Malin is an interesting, complex, single-minded character. She is a single mother living with her 13 year-old daughter called Tove, but with an amicable relationship with Tove's father, Janne, who lives nearby. Malin works hard, and leaves Tove to sort herself out for school and so on, most of the time, and perhaps as a consequence is slow to realize that Tove has found herself a boyfriend, and has started a sexual relationship with him. Malin has a complex relationship with her parents, who live in Tenerife, but still have a flat in Linköping, where Malin has to go regularly to water the plants. She also has a sort of relationship with the local journalist on the Correspondent, Daniel Högfeldt. Malin could almost have been the inspiration for the character of Sarah Lund in recent televised series of The Killing, as like Sarah, she becomes fixated on the murder, becomes somewhat neglectful of her family, works hard to discover who the perpetrator is, and isn't afraid to go sleuthing by herself, without her partner, if it seems too inconvenient to find him to take him along with her. Fortuitously, in this book, this strategy doesn't result in any harm, but it's not hard to see that she may not always be so lucky.
The novel itself is a slow burner, taking a while to really get going, possibly as some effort is put into introducing all the various characters, their history and their relationships to each other at the start of the book, before the investigation really starts to take off. Even then, mainly due to the stonewalling of various potential suspects, and the large number of potential leads that the team needs to follow through, the investigation starts to stall. Then, Malin's friend, Helen, who works for the local radio station remembers a key fact, just as the investigative team discover a new connection, which pushes the investigation forward, and the mystery is finally unravelled.
The book is highly focused on Malin, her obsession with police work, her relationship with her daughter, her detective partner, ex-husband and her parents, almost to the extent that solving the murder seems to take second place. However, solve the murder she does, although not in time to prevent a second murder attempt, or to stop a third. At the end of the book, there is still one mystery remaining however, and despite her obsession Malin thinks 'Do all questions have to be answered?'. An interesting beginning to a series of books featuring this detective, and I look forward to reading the next instalment.
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Michelle Peckham, England
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