Posted: July 17, 2011 in Book Awards, review, Sweden

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.

  1. Maxine says:

    I think this book is excellent, and so is your review. It is quite startling how it predates Lisbeth in The Girl Who Played With Fire mainly, but the other Larsson books too. It is a pity that Missing does not get the same recognition as it’s probably a better book (and a lot shorter/more focused).

  2. Margot Kinberg says:

    Norman – Excellent, excellent review! Thank you. Maxine makes a well-taken point, too, about the way so much attention’s been directed at Lisbeth Salander, when Sibylla Forsenstrom is at least as compelling.

  3. Philip says:

    I’m very happy to see this review, Norman. This is the second time I have had cause this morning to mention an author on my A+ List (Fred Vargas was the other), on which Alvtegen has been since I closed her first novel. My great fear when authors of such quality get a piddling amount of attention compared to…certain others is that they may disappear from the English language world. Tursten is a prime example of that, although in her case the English language publisher bears some responsibility.

  4. Norman says:

    Thanks you Maxine, Margot and Philip.
    In 2009 I really thought that if Johan Theorin’s Echoes from the Dead did not win the International Dagger Karin Alvtegen’s Shadow had a good chance.
    It is sad that Alvtegen and Tursten have not had the exposure in the UK given to other lesser authors.

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