Yet another Swedish pairing, and with quite a pedigree, having scripted for the Wallander and Arne Dahl series, and written a good number of Martin Beck films for Swedish TV and Cinema. Their first book, Spring Tide, published in the UK last year, is also due as a mini-series on Swedish TV in 2016. With all that going for the authors, I really do hope that Third Voice doesn’t disappear without trace in the UK, a fate which seems to have befallen Spring Tide. So far I have found very few copies in bookshops.
I must stress that point for there is a strong case for suggesting that anyone contemplating Third Voice should prepare themselves by reading Spring Tide. The cast is much the same and thus the reader is prepared for the introduction of a bewildering array of characters in the second book. But there is also a frustrating opening sequence in which a female character (who?) tells us she has been murdered and her body dissected (why?), while contemplating a fall from the rooftops (where?) into the breeze. Sorry but as a device that shouldn’t be allowed. Even worse for a spell it cast a doubt about the credibility of the book as a whole, which was quite unnecessary. But once the book kicks in there is no doubt that it offers a really engrossing and engaging treat. It’s a bit like those join the dots puzzles. Once the dots link the featured individuals and their sub-plots you become more confident the authors know what they are doing.
The central character is Olivia Ronning, or Rivera as she renames herself. Rivera is the name of her mother, a Mexican beauty who dies before she is born (again see Spring Tide). Her father, who is also dead, was a leading figure in the Stockholm police, and it was his influence that led Olivia to enrol in the police college. However, she has taken time out and travelled in Mexico to discover the places where her mother had grown up. Returning to Stockholm she disappoints many of her police friends by announcing she will study art rather than join the police.
Nevertheless, she finds herself drawn to crime when the young girl who lives next to her adopted mother comes home to find her father, a high ranking customs officer, has committed suicide. Askedby the daughter to retrieve a laptop from the house Olivia starts to doubt the suggestion of suicide. The laptop is missing so just what was on it that required the death of the customs officer, and the disappearance of the computer. The police come to much the same conclusion when they find the dead man has been investigating the loss of a large quantity of drugs from the customs headquarters.
Olivia’s independent inquiries point to yet another explanation for the murder. A journalist friend of the customs officer tells her that he was upset by the death of his father in a nursing home owned by one of Sweden’s largest hedge funds, and suspected the death was due to the negligent management by a hedge fund more concerned with profit than care.
Those themes rapidly expand as other characters take centre stage and introduce new strands. Tom Stilton, the detective, who originally investigated the murder of Olivia’s mother, emerges from a break down and a period of life on the streets of Stockholm. He is trying to get his life together again, and seeking revenge on the corrupt police chief who engineered his breakdown and dismissal from the police. Before he gets the chance to do that he receives a request from his old friend Abbas (like Stilton another old acquaintance of Olivia’s, and still more reason to start with Spring Tide) to accompany him to Marseilles. Abbas wants Stilton’s help to discover who has murdered the blind girl he fell in love with when he was young and a knife-thrower in a circus. The girl is the same one who recounts her murder in the opening sequence. Abbas and Stilton find she was involved in some heavy pornography and murdered by a porn actor calling himself the Bull. The plot becomes further complicated when the boss of the hedge fund is found murdered and the missing laptop is retrieved.
Ultimately, Third Voice, for all its early frustrations, is a riveting read with all the hallmarks of a pairing who cut their teeth dramatising some of the best Swedish crime fiction. In addition, it carries a warning for those of you who are indifferent to the increasingly powerful and corrupt influence of hedge funds, especially when they seek to carve up health and social services in the singular pursuit of profit.