Having been sent Leona: The Die is Cast from first time novelist, Jenny Rogneby, by the publisher (thank you), I was really looking forward to sinking my teeth into a Nordic crime noir as I’m a huge fan of the fictive work coming from the north. Announced as Sweden’s Number 1 bestseller, and with a blurb set to make your blood race, I began reading.
There’s no doubt this book is original in terms of its central crime, the “criminals” perpetrating it and in the main protagonist, Leona Lindberg a detective with a formidable reputation based in Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Division.
When a blood-covered little girl walks into a crowded bank clutching a teddy bear and plays a voice-recording demanding money, warning any who try to approach the child to stay away or else, the public imagination and collective horror of the police force, media and citizens is aroused.
The case is handed to Leona but, before she can make headway, a second robbery courtesy of the same little girl takes place. Hounded by her boss who keeps foisting extra and inexperienced staff upon her, Leona is alternately frustrated and wanting to taunt her difficult manager. If she’s just left alone, she knows she can solve this case. It doesn’t help that her home life is in a shambles, she has a gambling addiction that keeps her awake most nights and her son is seriously ill. Socially awkward and feeling trapped, Leona is desperate to solve the crime and sort out her personal life, but with the eyes of her colleagues and the media watching her every move, including a persistent journalist, it appears this strong woman might unravel before anything is resolved.
This is a well-written and mostly tautly paced novel that has the most unpleasant “hero” I have yet had the misfortune to encounter. There is little to like about Leona Lindberg. At first, I thought she was going to be like Saga from the marvellous series The Bridge. But whereas Saga has redeeming qualities (including her affable partner, Martin), and especially strong ethics, Leona doesn’t even possess these. She lies, she’s incredibly selfish, she’s disloyal and they’re her good points.
But it’s these very qualities and the fact the central protagonist is such a loathsome creature in so many ways that make this book quite compelling. You keep reading because you want to see her either get her comeuppance or compensate for the dreadful and narcissistic choices she makes.
While I didn’t feel an iota of sympathy for Leona (but did for anyone who had anything to do with her) and, frankly, rushed through a couple of sections in the novel because I simply didn’t care, I also wanted to know what was going to happen. So kudos to Rogneby for managing to construct a story that, despite its main character, still has you wanting to keep reading.
There’s no doubt, Leona is a juggler who has to work hard to keep all the balls she keeps throwing up in the air – and Rogneby even harder. I wasn’t entirely convinced by what started out as a resolution to Leona’s case but when it quickly segued into the opening for another instalment in what’s going to be a series, I saw where Rogneby is going and hats off to her.
I think I have to recover from this novel before I decide if I continue to follow Leona’s (mis)adventures. I know I needed a hot shower after this one and that was because for a cop, this woman makes the reader feel dirty – and not in any sexual kind of way, but in a grubby horrid one. Another reason why the tale is so unique.
Recommended for anyone who wants an original take on a strong genre with a woman unlike any other in the lead.