The Chosen by Kristina Ohlsson

25925079Still on my Nordic Noir bend, a friend recommended this author, Kristina Ohlsson, to me and, after searching through her titles (and being impressed by the sterling reviews her work is receiving), I chose The Chosen. Just a few pages in, I was caught up in both the story and the quality of the writing. As the tale progressed, I found it more and more difficult to tear myself away, and I quickly understood that Ohlsson more than deserves those great reviews.

The Chosen opens on a freezing winter’s day, just a snowstorm wraps itself around the city of Stockholm. It’s early afternoon and children are preparing to head home when a pre-school teacher is shot and killed in front of parents and students at Jewish school. Before the police can even begin to understand the tragedy and cope with the fallout, two boys from the school go missing.

As the body count begins to mount and the clues don’t, there are nonetheless commonalities between the kidnappings and the deaths: the mysterious Paper Boy, who is both an urban myth told to frighten wayward Jewish children as well as the alter ego of a sadistic killer, and then there’s Israel.

Involving other agencies, harkening back to the past as well as to other countries and times, the lead investigators, Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht and their team have to use all available resources to uncover the truth and expose the killer before one of their own gets hurt.

Drawing on mythology and superstition and using flashbacks and prolepsis (that involve a violin – a potent signifier), the book keeps you guessing as to the outcome until the end. The interesting thing is, the reader is privy to the identity of the killer before the police, but it’s who the final victims are that keep you on the edge of your seat and feeling torn as you know catastrophe is about to unfold and there is no such thing as the lesser of two evils…

A clever, gripping book that explores families – personal and professional, communities, faith, loyalty, revenge, patriotism, choices, loss and consequences.

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Leona: The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby

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.

imgres-2There’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.

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