Swedish bestsellers making their US debuts are now a category all their own in the mystery genre. When it comes down to it, the basics are the same in our countries: family ties, hate, revenge, greed, and violence prove time and again to be universal themes.
Mons Kallentoft’s novel is one of the latest to cross the ocean and Midwinter Blood shows what precise, insightful storytelling US readers have been missing.
Published as Midwinter Sacrifice in Sweden during 2007, where it became a best- seller, Midwinter Blood launches Kallentoft’s series about police inspector Malin Fors, a single mother who battles the tequila bottle and personal problems as she tries to balance her demanding job with her demand- ing teenage daughter.
This dark, angst-filled novel is an exacting procedural, as well as a study of loneliness and how family support or rejection affects a person’s life. Kallentoft’s beautiful prose serves his story well. Malin and her team from the Violent Crime Squad at the Linköping Police Department are investigating the murder of a man found hanging in a tree in a remote area. Bengt “Ball-Bengt” Andersson was an obese man, possibly mentally handicapped, who kept to himself. He was quite possibly the loneliest man in town. His Spartan apartment spoke of “loneliness kept neat and tidy.” Bengt was often the butt of jokes, but it seems unfathomable that anyone would have felt so strongly about him as to murder him in such a brutal way. Malin’s investigation reveals Bengt’s tragic childhood and leads her to a family of criminals who live in an isolated compound.
Kallentoft’s brisk plotting and insightful character studies shine. He showcases Linköping, now one of Sweden’s high-tech centers, surrounded by empty plains and deep forests. We tend to think of Sweden as permanently cold. While the frigid weather plays a major part in Midwinter Blood, it’s the chill of the human heart that shows how “the coldest winter in living memory just got a few degrees less forgiving, that the cold has just shown its true face.”
The intriguing Malin’s personal life is fraught with problems and inconsistencies. She worries about neglecting her daughter by spending too much time at work and suffering emotional angst over her cases, yet she cannot stop herself from rushing to an interview or crime scene. Her strong relationship with her colleagues balances the sexist politics that permeate the upper ranks of the police force. Kallentoft has four other novels in the Malin Fors series that have already been published in Sweden. They can’t be published quickly enough in the US.