Archive for December 2, 2013

51gVF35NXJLIn an apartment block in Solna, Karl Danielsson, an elderly accountant, has his head smashed in with a cast-iron saucepan lid. He is-

The classic Swedish murder victim, if you like. In today’s terminology. ‘A single, middle-aged man, socially marginalized, with a serious alcohol dependency.’ 

Or in Detective Superintendent Evert Backstrom’s concise assessment ‘Your standard pisshead, basically,’. 

Karl’s battered body had been discovered by the newspaper deliveryman Septimus Afokeli, a Somali refugee. What should be a simple crime to solve turns out to be a bit more convoluted. It is not as first thought a typical argument between drunks leading to violent murder. With Evert Backstrom in charge of the investigation, and having just been ordered by the police doctor to adjust his lifestyle to something a lot more healthy, anything can happen. And does.

This like all of Professor Persson’s crime novels that have been translated into English is a very clever book, full of great characters, black humour and gritty social commentary and satire; but I am a slightly ambivalent about this one. The reason, Backstrom is an acquired taste and his racist and homophobic attitudes do become a bit wearing when repeated over and over again. The plot could have done with more of the strong female characters Anna Holt, Backstrom’s ultimate boss, and Annika Carlsson, despite her strange devotion to the fat little swine, and a bit less of Backstrom.  

‘Thoughts?’ Backstrom said, looking round at the other five people in the room. Five mental cases, if you asked him. One Russian, one pretty little darkie, one attack-dyke, one retarded folk-dancer and one Woodentop. The curse of being in charge, he thought.

The plot which follows the investigation into the Danielsson murder and other possibly related crimes sometimes veers from biting satire to farce, but I am prepared to put up with that because the Leif G.W. Persson books are always interesting and provide a different, perhaps more honest perspective, on the Swedish social democratic utopia that seems to have lost its way. Evert Backstrom, is a horrid hateful amoral gluttonous anti-hero, whose only redeeming feature is unfortunately his good luck; but despite him I can recommend He Who Kills The Dragon as an intelligent thought provoking read that will make you wonder how many Backstroms are there in Stockholm’s finest. 

In 1939 Heydrich [German SS General Reinhard Heydrich] at the initiative of the Swedes, had been appointed chairman of the International Police Organization [Interpol]. The following year he was awarded the Great Gold Police Medal for his ‘exemplary contribution to maintaining law and order in Czechoslovakia hit hard by the winds of war.’

That is probably more offensive than anything Backstrom could say, or think.