HE WHO KILLS THE DRAGON: LEIF G.W. PERSSON trans NEIL SMITH

Posted: December 2, 2013 in review, Scandinavia, Sweden

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.      

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Comments
  1. Norman – An excellent review, for which thanks. I know what you mean about having enough of Backstrom’s views and attitudes. But I do like the wit in these novels, and this one sounds as though it’s well-written. And as you say, the perspective is interesting and perhaps realistic.

  2. lartonmedia says:

    I’ve just reviewed Another Time, Another Life, and had some of the reservations you did about this book, but enjoyed it for similar reasons! I have He Who Kills the Dragon to read soon.

  3. Mrs P. says:

    Yes, I agree with you, Norman – a little less Backstrom would have been good (although perhaps that’s the point; he really does start to drive you mad as he would in real life!). The first Backstrom novel – LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER – felt more rounded, with a more clearly defined topic of exploration, and remains my favourite. Will still be keen to read the last in the Backstrom trilogy though. He’s such a wickedly monstrous creation.

  4. […] kathy d. on Fifty Years since Dallas. kathy d. on THE … In 1939 Heydrich [German SS General Reinhard Heydrich] at the initiative of the Swedes, had been appointed chairman of the International Police Organization [Interpol].  […]

  5. Blighty says:

    I “enjoyed” the dreadful Evert in the Linda Murder, sounds as if he gets a bit much in this book but I suppose he is meant to be tiresome. Will give this book a go. I was really struck by your last point: having been really moved and shocked by HHhH by Laurent Binet, this is astounding, I had no idea…as you say, truly offensive. Thank you for this excellent review.

  6. Norman Price says:

    Margot- Thanks I just feel a little guilty finding Backstrom so amusing. I am definitely looking forward to reading any of Prof Persson’s books that are translated.

    Mrs P- Thanks for tweet by the way. I agree with your opinion about Linda, As in the Linda Murder and am looking forward to further Backstrom books, and the end of the story of a crime trilogy [Between Summer…..: and Another Time Another Life…..] and The Dying Detective.
    In my professional life I came across a few Backstroms, medicine and dentistry have more than there fair share. Although they were a small minority compared with the vast majority of caring professionals, like the monstrous character they can leave a big impression on people’s lives.

    Blighty- I haven’t read HHhH but I might try it some time. Heydrich shocked me but other presidents of Interpol included Arthur Nebe and Kaltenbrunner.
    I can’t remember where I heard/read this but it is said the “Nazis took a week to conquer Norway, and afternoon to deal with Denmark and a telephone call to subdue Sweden”. Of course I can forgive Sweden’s cooperation with the Nazis [iron ore and ball bearings] and I can forgive them a bit because they took in Denmark’s Jews and did not turn them over to the Nazis.
    Interpol headquarters were in Vienna, and after Anschluss in 1938 all the administration was in the hands of the Nazi Party. One of the penalties of co-operating with Europe!

  7. […] Other reviews appear in Crimepieces, Col’s Criminal Library, and Crime Scraps. […]

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