The Scandinavian crime wave continues unabated with another debut, making publishing marketing departments feed readers appetites [and the bookshops] by invoking memories of established and acclaimed authors such as Nesbo, Larsson, and Mankell.
This debut however arrives with an interesting pedigree, as Ahnhem is an ex-screenwriter, with robust credits including Yellowbird’s TV Wallander series. The author’s screenwriting background is apparent in Victim Without a Face, such is the cinematic nature of the story.
Fabian Risk is another Detective, with his own unique set of flaws and scars. Returning from Stockholm to Helsingborg a small provincial town in Sweden, Risk is emerging from the black-cloud of a previous case that went wrong, and one that raised questions about his suitability to remain a detective in the Stockholm police. His attempt to re-establish his career in a smaller police unit coincides with his efforts to resurrect his marriage after an affair.
The journey to his old hometown allows him and his family to prepare for the culture shock of life in the sticks; and enjoy quality time together, rather than live amongst the bustle of big-city Stockholm. But almost as soon as the furniture is in place; Risk receives a visit from Astrid Tuvesson, his new boss with a case in which he might be able to provide some special insight. Risk is informed that there has been a gruesome murder at a local school, and that Risk’s special insight is that in his youth, he had attended the school and knew the victim.
Despite still having leave from the local Police to settle his family into his old home town, the case naturally intrigues; so Risk throws himself into the investigation; one with roots to his own past.
Risk knows his way around his old class. The victim, Jorgen Palsson was a school bully, who married the girl that Risk fancied. He also remembers the particular student who had been the brunt of the bullying; but has little idea what happened to him after he left the school. Risk interviews the grieving wife and finds her totally unwilling to accept that her husband was anything but a paragon of virtue, and views his investigation with suspicion, motivated by Risk’s jealously, to sully her late husband’s reputation.
The case quickly achieves further local notoriety as more of the ex-students and staff are murdered, or die under what can now be considered as suspicious circumstances. The police rightfully assume that all those who witnessed the bullying, and did little to stop it - are possible victims, including Risk. The hunt is therefore on for the bullied student - as the motive for the murders, appears to be revenge on the alumni.
The narrative has red-herrings, side-plots, an evocative location, but a warning – for it is as violent and disturbing as the more established Scandinavian crime fiction that came before Stefan Ahnhem; though I am sure Ahnhem will soon be joining the ranks of his colleagues, ahead of him in the book charts.
Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles