This book is called Sebastian Bergman for a good reason. The Swedish psychologist and police profiler that we became acquainted with on BBC4 a few months ago dominates this novel completely. He’s rude, self-important, cruel, clever but knows it, disloyal, sex-obsessed and, clearly, not a great friend to have. He is also a fantastic creation by the two authors who make up (Michael) Hjorth (Hans) Rosenfeldt.
The Swedish TV series was based on this novel, so this is not some cheesy TV spin-off book. If anything, it is more textured and satisfying than the TV drama, though actor Rolf Lassgård lingers in the reader’s mind if the series has been seen.
There is something hugely entertaining about watching someone behave inappropriately time and again, with complete disregard for others and their conventions. Sebastian sleeps with witnesses, is disloyal to the senior detective, Torkel, who takes a risk in offering Bergman a job, is mortifyingly rude to anyone he looks down on or dislikes, and he torments the highly competent female detectives on Torkel’s team, Vanja and Ursula, who can’t stand him.
What’s his problem? Where to start? He has, or course, lost his wife and young daughter in the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, a loss that ruined his career and sent him into alcoholic decline. But his rage against life started before that, in rebellion against his middle-class parents, whom he has not seen for decades and have now died, his mother’s recent death bringing him back to his hometown of Vasteras. However cold they were toward him, we wonder whether his loathing of them and his lifetime of bad behaviour are entirely justified. While sifting through the ‘crap’ in her house, he finds letters revealing that he may unknowingly have fathered a child 30 years before. Should he look up the mother and child? Is this a second chance for Sebastian to find some meaning to his life?
Oh, and somebody has been murdered. A teenager has been subjected to a knife attack and his body dumped in water in a forest. Washed-up Sebastian blags his way onto the investigation to access the police computer and find the woman he can no longer recall but who may be his child’s mother. As the difficult case unfolds, Sebastian warms to Vanja and finds himself taking work seriously again.
This is an engrossing novel, a fine mystery but one dominated by convincing, believable characters. The theme permeating the story is the pain and joy and importance of parent-child bonds, highlighted for instance by the victim, Roger, who has rejected his dowdy mother, who in turn is numb with grief at his killing. Senior detective Hanser lives with the loss of her 14-year-old son on a rail crossing, though her marriage didn’t survive it. This torment is in contrast with the experience of Vanja, who loves her father, and Torkel, who has a happy relationship with his daughter, while the comic copper Haraldson is expected by his wife to perform sexually round the clock so that they might start a family. All of which is overshadowed by Sebastian’s rupture with his parents, and short-lived salvation with his wife and child.
Sebastian Bergman is one of those rare novels that you’re sad to finish, full of intrigue, darkness, humour, tenderness and a total shit of a hero.