Archive for July 17, 2011

Sibylla Forsenstrom is a homeless person. Once she was a Chief Executive’s daughter but her unfeeling parents who regarded her more as a possession than a child turned her into an outsider. A great tragedy followed, and now she lives on the streets relying on a regular allowance sent to a post office by her mother probably to assuage her conscience  and to prevent her returning home. She also relies on her wits as she tricks older men in to paying for expensive meals and hotel rooms in Stockholm.

‘Oh God, no!’ ‘What’s the matter?’ ‘My wallet’s gone.’ She rooted in her handbag again frantically.

When one of these men Jorgen Grundberg is found murdered the morning after he has paid for her meal and her hotel room she goes on the run. Then further bodies turn up murdered in a similar manner, and she becomes the most wanted woman in Sweden. Sibylla let down by all around her frantically moves from place to place and then hides in a school attic where she meets an ally, who comes up with a solution to her problem. 

Interwoven with Sibylla’s tense struggle to stay away from the authorities is the harrowing back story of how she came to be homeless, her time in a metal institution, and her life on the streets. This is brilliant crime fiction with a very sympathetic heroine, a neat plot and some nice twists and turns along the way. 

Karin Alvtegen wrote Missing in 2000 , and it was translated into English in 2003 by Anna Paterson.  In 2001 Missing was awarded the Nordic Glass Key, which has also been won by Henning Mankell, Peter Hoeg, Leif Davidsen, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Roslund & Hellstrom, Johan Theorin, Jussi Adler-Olsen, Stieg Larsson [twice] and Arnaldur Indridason [twice]. 

A young woman protagonist, an older version of Pippi Longstocking, an outsider with a tragic back story, a girl who has been failed by Sweden’s social services, and is on the run in a story with some computer hacking may seem a little familiar. But remember Karin Alvtegen is Astrid Lindgren’s great niece, [Astrid created Pippi Longstocking] and she wrote Missing with Sibylla five years before Lisbeth Salander made her debut. 

Missing is a superb novel with a beautifully paced tense narrative, and an emotional back story that shows the reader that the Swedish socialist utopia is a myth. 

The sales manager was asking his annual question. He was about as interested in her answer as in some muck on his shoe. ‘So kind of you to ask,’ she said loudly. ‘Mostly we just hangout, boozing and fucking.’ He nodded benignly. A second later, his tiny mind registered her answer, and he looked the other way, plainly at a loss.     

My review of another superb Karin Alvtegen novel Shadow, which was nominated for the 2009 CWA International Dagger.