Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Review of The Dying Detective by Leif G.W. Persson (2016, English; 2010 Swedish)

Former police chief Lars Martin Johansson still enjoys street food. When he stops for a hotdog what saves his life is the presence of a number of police officers. Suffering a massive stroke he is rushed to hospital. While recovering his neurologist tells him about the rape and murder of a nine year old girl that took place twenty five years ago. The neurologist’s father was a priest who before he died told his daughter that a parishioner had passed on her suspicions concerning the killer, though he hadn't told the identity to the daughter. The case has never been solved. From his hospital bed, Johansson starts to investigate, soon discovering that the original investigation had been botched from the start. Moreover, due to a new twenty five statute of limitations, even if he identified the perpetrator they could not face justice. Johannsson, however, is not the kind of person who’s going to let a stroke, ill-health, weak evidence or the justice system get in his way – he was after-all known as the cop who could see round corners.

The Dying Detective is the eighth book in the Jarnebring and Johansson, not all of which have been translated into English. It can though be read as a standalone and I’ve not yet read any of the other books. In this outing, Johansson has retired as police chief and suffers a serious stroke. While recovering he starts to investigate a twenty five year old rape and murder of a nine year old girl that was never solved. Using his friend Jarnebring to run errands and asking favours of former colleagues he starts to piece together what happened and who was responsible. His obsession for justice is not good for his recovery, but Johansson is only interested in the good life and justice, not struggling along with illness and popping pills. Undoubtedly the star of the book is Johansson, a bear of a man struggling to maintain his bite. He’s surrounded by a cast of memorable characters including Jarnebring, his brother Evert, wife Pia, and home-helps, the tattooed Matilda and burly Max, and there’s some nice interchanges between them. I was particularly taken with the narrative voice, which is engaging and entertaining, especially the tandem of Johansson’s spoken words and thoughts.  For the most part, Persson keeps the plot moving along, mixing in some light humour and social commentary. At the point the killer’s identity is revealed, however, the pace drops and the story becomes somewhat drawn-out, shifting from the hunt to the nature of justice. What was a great read has the wind taken from its sails, losing momentum and direction. Which was a shame as I was thoroughly enjoying the tale. Nonetheless, The Dying Detective is a very good read with a wonderful lead character.

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