The Killer’s Art bring us up to date with Mari Jungstedt’s Inspector Knutas novels that are available in English. As the title suggests the setting for the novel is the world of modern art – at least, the commercial world of modern art (the private galleries, collectors, investors and the trade in stolen art), rather than the concerns of the artists themselves. As with the earlier novels, the story is set on Gotland and, at least in part, explores the tension between Stockholm, the capital, and the provinces. It is a tension that is best exemplified by the character of the reporter, Johan Berg, who is constantly torn by his responsibilities to his Stockholm-based employers and his responsibilities to his Gotland-based partner and young daughter. It is also a tension that Jungstedt uses well to address the central problem that faces her as a writer – how do you write a novel that is set in the world of modern art, that is inarguably metropolitan in its focus, and which is also set on a provincial island known for a sense of remoteness for the modern centre?
It seems that Jungstedt’s writing becomes more confident with each novel and The Killer’s Art is her most accomplished to date. Nevertheless, there are moments of clunkiness in the plot that aren’t well explained and the occasional passages that are rather derivative. Also the very notion of setting a crime novel within a particular and closely-defined sub-world (in this case that of the art world) feels a bit ‘old hat’. As such the novel, as with her other ones, lacks some of the edginess and bleakness of other Scandanavian crime writers such as Nesbo, Mankell and Fossum. Nevertheless, it is still a good read – perfect for a night in!
Still with Scandanavian crime fiction and to the third novel in Mari Jungstedt’s Inspector Knutas series. This is a very well constructed traditional police procedural with a strong ‘whodunnit’ feel to it and perhaps the most satisfying read of the series to date for me. I mention its ‘whodunnit’ quality because this so so often a rarity these days in crime fiction and I felt a certain nostalgia in reading this book at its rather charming and old-fashioned feel, which Jungstedt manages so well.
This time Knutas and his team are called in to investigate the murder of an archaeology student. Jungstedt brings together some of the gorier elements of Gotland folklore, along with the island’s Viking history and the fact that archaeology has become a veritable industry and source of income for the island. It is this bringing together of the ancient and the modern that allows Jungstedt to convey something of Gotland’s landscape and culture – certainly more so than in the earlier novels. Gotland is much more a living character itself in this novel, but not just as a pohysical presence – a cultural, historical and psychological one too.
Where Jungstedt has innovated is that there are two heroes in her novels and this becomes stronger in each of the three books so far. As well as Knutas, there is also the journalist Johan Berg – so two heroes, pitched against each other, but both on the same side, as it were. The tension and rivalry between Knutas and Berg is nicely set up by Jungstedt and looks set to play an increasingly important role in future novels.
Mari Jungstedt, another crime novelist with a background as a journalist, is one of the more recent arrivals on the Scandanavian, and specifically Swedish, crime fiction scene. Her first novel, Unseen, was an assured debut and introduced us to Chief Inspector Anders Knutas. Unspoken (and you can no doubt see a theme emerging here in the titles) is the second novel of four that have been published in English in fairly rapid succession, and shows an increased confidence in the writing.
One one level it is a straightforward police procedural in which Knutas and his team investigate the murder of an alcoholic photographer and the disappearance of a fourteen-year old girl. What starts off as two separate cases inevitably become linked. Some of the description and characterisation is redolent of Mankell (although Knutas is a far more subtle and functioning character than Wallander), but it lacks Mankell’s rawness and owes more, I think, to Sjowall and Wahloo. Like Martin Beck, Knutas is only one of a number of individuals who solve the case – it is a novel about the team, rather than individual – of dogged police teamwork, rather than the maverick gumshoe.
I have only two minor criticisms. Firstly, as this is a UK publication of a Swedish novel, I found the consistent use of American English a slight irritant. And secondly, I felt that Jungstedt, having built the tension very nicely, rushes to finish the novel off rather too quickly. It felt like something of an abrupt ending and she could have let herself and the reader enjoy the closing pages a little more.
The next two novels in the series are sitting on my bookshelf, waiting to be read, and I am already looking forward to it.
Unseen is another debut novel, this time from Mari Jungstedt, a rising star of Scandanavian crime fiction. The book cover proclaims her as ‘a thrilling new voice in Swedish crime’. I think I would be tempted to call her ‘a promising new voice’.
Jungstedt uses her experience in broadcasting to provide some of the background to this novel, set on the holiday island of Gotland and centering around a serial killer, systematically murdering thrity-something women. The detective characters of Chief Inspector Knutas and Detective Jacobsson are interesting creations and Jungstedt is conficent in establishing the relationship between the two. However, the novel bears all the hallmarks of a debut novel. Sometimes the exposition is clumsy, the descriptions of the geographical landscape reading something like a tourist guide book. This may be the result of an overeager translator or editor wanting to explain things to a non-Swedish readership, but I found these sections a little awkward. Also, the plot is rather predictable. It is another story about a psychologically unstable killer, who has been traumatised in childhood and set on taking revenge on those he believes to be his tormentors. It is almost derivative in this respect and, although I think Jungstedt is trying to write a ‘keep-them-guessing-til-the-end’ whodunnit, I had worked it all out about half way through.
This may all sound rather harsh and I don’t really mean it to be. It is a very readable novel and Jungstedt is one to watch. Another of her novels, Unspoken was published at the same time in paperback as Unseen and also features Knutas and Jacobsson. It will be worth the read, no doubt.