UNWANTED: KRISTINA OHLSSON trans SARAH DEATH

Posted: March 30, 2012 in review, Scandinavia, Sweden

It is the third Tuesday in July when the X2000 express from Gothenburg to Stockholm is delayed by signaling problems at Flemingsburg 20 km from the capital. Sara Sebastiansson leaves her daughter Lilian sleeping on the train while she descends onto the platform to make a telephone call. Sara is distracted by a young woman needing help with her dog, and the train leaves without her. Sara then hires a taxi to get to Stockholm station, and a call is made to the train to arrange for a guard to watch over Lilian. But when she gets to the train Lilian is gone. 

The story then follows the classic pattern of a police procedural investigation by a team of detectives. When Lilian’s body turns up with the word Unwanted on her forehead outside a hospital in Umea in Northern Sweden, the team have to put aside personal differences in an attempt to stop the killer before more children are abducted. 

The narrative switches between the various investigators and brief passages dealing with “the Man” and his female accomplice, who is in reality also a victim.  In the first half of the book it was the character studies and personality clashes between the investigators that had me hooked, but the second half  I found was a little bit of a let down.

Alex Recht is the experienced detective leading the team: in the course of his years with the police, he had come to viewed as something of a legend. On the whole, he thought it was a reputation he deserved. Alex is a man set in his ways, who wrongly thinks the academic civilian investigative analyst on his team Frederika Bergman doesn’t have a feel for the job. 

But Frederika is clearly the most intelligent of the group, even though she is involved in an affair with a married man 25 years her senior, who has no intention of leaving his wife. The third member of the team is Peder Rydh, a young ambitious but almost childish policeman, who can’t maturely accept either Frederika as a colleague, or even his wife Ylva’s post natal depression after the birth of twins. 

The team’s various personal problems, the team’s assistant Ellen Lind is also having an affair with a mystery man, Alex’s son is living in Colombia, Frederika’s body clock is making her consider adoption, Peder feels guilt for being unfaithful and that an accident years ago left his brother Jimmy a permanent child, all add interesting background to the story. Unfortunately Alex and Peder are adamant that Sara Sebastiansson’s violent estranged husband, Gabriel, is the key to the case, and may have abducted his own daughter to punish Sara. Gabriel has disappeared and his horrid mother Teodora is a memorably obnoxious figure from a large cast of minor characters that appear throughout the story. 

This is one of those books where the reader knows a bit more than the investigators, who are in fact pathetically slow on the uptake mainly because they don’t value Frederika’s input as much as they they should.

‘Heck, this is big! Three search warrants in one go, it’s not every day you get to be in on setting up a big operation like that,’ he said, so elated that Frederika started wondering if he’d taken something to get so high.

‘A child has died,’ she said instead, her voice a monotone. ‘Pardon me for not joining in with your transports of delight.’

 I perhaps enjoyed Unwanted more than I should have as the subject matter concerning the abuse of women, and the murder of children, is definitely not my cup of tea; and the weaknesses in the investigation became more and more annoying as time went on. If I was a detective, and someone had their child abducted in that manner I would want to know every single detail about their past lives and contacts from minute one.  But despite the fact that most of the male characters are horribly violent, and the women are  all in some form of abusive relationship Unwanted kept me reading through to the dramatic ending. 

Kristina Ohlsson, a political scientist who works as a counter-terrorism officer at the OSCE [Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe], has produced a  debut novel that did not quite live up to expectations, but I am not surprised that her next two books Tusenskonor and Anglavakter were both shortlisted for the Best Swedish crime fiction novel award. I will definitely read the next book in the series to see how the characters develop, and if the plotting is a bit tighter. 

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Comments
  1. Norman – Thank you for a thoughtful and well-written review as ever. I have to admit that I will probably wait on this one, and may in fact give it a miss. I’ve read too many books featuring stolen children, women in abusive relationships and men who are violent this past while and I think I am just going to hold off. But your review is as always excellent.

  2. Norman Price says:

    Margot, thanks very much.
    I had seen the nominations for the Best Novel for books 2 and 3, and therefore was a bit disappointed with this debut.

  3. I have this one on the TBR – even though I now know it has some flaws I’m keen to read it to see how she might progress as an author.

  4. Norman Price says:

    Bernadette, I wonder what you will make of it. I became a bit confused especially by a cameo appearance of an American profiler to tell them how to proceed.

  5. kathy d. says:

    Oh, gosh, I don’t want to read about abused and murdered children. I hit my dividing line on The Boy in the Suitcase on the kidnapping of a child, and if it had gone much further, I’d probably have closed the book and not finished it. But this book doesn’t sound interesting enough to try to deal with the abuse issues. It takes a heck of a well-written book to read about these themes. I wonder if readers are interested, or if writers are running out of ideas. Financial crimes anyone? Murders for inheritances? Old Nazi pasts? They beat out these abuse themes.

  6. Maxine says:

    Excellent review, Norman. I was rather uneasy reading this book, as for me it came too close to the exploitative edge, on a subject that is very hard to read about. I also felt that there were far too many obvious red herrings, and the feminism (all men bad, all women bad apart from one token counterexample) was too obvious. But the way the odious Alex and Peter treated Katharina sure got me riled up!

  7. Maxine says:

    oops, “all women good”….etc.

  8. Norman Price says:

    Thanks Maxine. I started to feel guilty at enjoying the build up, the abduction, the introduction of the cops etc when I saw how it was going.
    I watched a recording of Those Who Kill last night, and that went far too far for me. Stay away from Copenhagen Dorte it is far too dangeous. Rather like Midsomer but with more psychopaths.

    I am looking forward to reading a nice convoluted political murder story by Leif GW Persson for light relief. 🙂

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