Söderströms, 2008. ISBN: 9789515225733
Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2011:1
This review also covers Pettersson's Göm mig i dit hjärta (Conceal Me in Your Heart), ISBN 9789515227409, Söderströms förlag, 2010, 244 pp.
Torsten Pettersson, a Finland-Swede from Åbo, is Professor of Literature at Uppsala University with an impressive literary output both in scope and volume. He has published nine collections of lyric poems, some containing surrealistic and experimental elements, essays, a profile in verse of Carl Linnaeus, and studies of classical authors, including Joseph Conrad, Eyvind Johnson, Rainer Maria Rilke and Hjalmar Bergman. The manuscript of Ge mig dina ögon, his first work of crime fiction, was sent anonymously to his publishers and caused surprise but also admiration. It soon became a prizewinning bestseller. The novel is set in the Swedishspeaking Finnish town of Forshälla, where a serial killer is at large. The first victim, Gabriella, is found strangled, her eyes cut out and the letter A carved on her abdomen. Other bodies are discovered, similarly mutilated with slight variations. Superintendent Harald Lindmark, together with his young assistant Sonja Alder, who has studied serial murders in the USA, and the rest of his team, scrutinise the facts they have amassed for similarities and anomalies. Gabriella, a pregnant young woman who had been dismissed from her post at a nuclear power station, was found in woods outside the town. The body of Jon, a homosexual, was discovered in an isolated cottage, while Lennart, whose wife had disappeared, was found murdered in his own flat. There is nothing to connect the killings and Lindmark, a very experienced detective, with over ninety solved cases to his credit, confesses he is baffled. Except for the first three pages related in the first person by Jag (i.e. I or Ego), presumably a pathological killer, the novel at first follows more or less traditional lines, but then Lindmark receives life-stories composed by Gabriella, Lennart, by Erik, Gabriella’s lover, whose post-Bosnian war traumatic stress syndrome makes him a prime suspect and by Nadja, an underage Russian girl tricked into sexual bondage in Forshälla. All are addressed – to whom? Jag himself describes his actions, and the reader, having sometimes read Jag’s account before the team’s briefing sessions, knows that some of their theories or suggestions miss the mark. The gradual feeding of information from various sources is intriguing but demanding for the reader, and the suspension of disbelief is strained to the limit when yet another personal account, this time from a completely unexpected source hitherto outside the narrative, reaches Lindmark and assists the investigation by revealing a colleague’s betrayal. The author is a master of different styles: the young Russian’s fluent but naïve and often ungrammatical Swedish, the killer’s pathological thoughts, the soldier’s mental anguish, the formal style of a cultured, aristocratic recluse. He also introduces many disturbing aspects of the present day: the psychological effect of fighting in Bosnia on a young man and its exacerbation by relentless police cross-examination; the dangers of nuclear energy; the heartless exploitation of young girls forced into prostitution. The graphic descriptions of the mutilated victims may not be for the faint-hearted, but this is a many-faceted and often gripping novel. Ge mig dina ögon was planned as a trilogy and Göm mig i ditt hjärta is the second volume. Superintendent Lindmark and his team are faced with three crimes, all committed in or around Forshälla but seemingly unrelated. Nine-year-old Petra Nilsson disappeared a year after a three-yearold boy went missing and there are now plenty of suspects. Her alcoholic parents might have killed Petra in a drunken brawl and hidden her body; her father was heavily in debt to Sörensen, a ruthless money lender, who could have had the child abducted as a warning; the wife of a close neighbour, Nils Dunander, was raped and murdered three years previously and, although nothing was proved, Dunander and another neighbour, Henrik Ingves, were both suspects. Dunander coached a young bandy team, and is also suspected of being a paedophile. With the same combination of doggedness and intuition as in the first volume, Lindmark follows the trail of Petra’s disappearance, which then gradually leads to a complicated network involving the other unsolved crimes and even to a ‘crooked cop’( in the American-trained Sonja’s words), already revealed in Part 1 of the trilogy. This volume is slightly easier stylistically, since the narration is only by Lindmark himself, except for the recorded dialogues of police interviews and briefings. The plot shows the same ingenious twists and turns, but the dénouement this time is within the framework of the narrative and more realistic. When Pettersson’s first volume appeared, critics wrote that Finland had now found her Henning Mankell or Åke Edwardsson. However, when one thinks of Mankell’s Ystad or Edwardsson’s Gothenburg, Pettersson’s works seem to lack a specifically Finnish dimension – Forshälla could as easily be in Sweden as in Finland. That said, Pettersson has produced two intriguing thrillers with a central figure as credible as Wallander or Erik Winter. Lindmark is adept at reading expressions and body language and can imagine himself into suspects’ situations. We see how he is affected by crime, especially where children are involved. In the first part of the trilogy he examines his face in the mirror and feels a ‘twenty- or thirty-year-old who by some strange error has landed in this continually ageing body’, but by the second part he admits to himself that he is in his fifties. He misses his deceased wife and regrets that he neglected her and their two children by always putting his job first. He is still able to keep in touch with his son and grandsons, but is estranged from his daughter and, as he approaches retirement, wonders how he will cope. Lindmark had thought of himself as a decent policeman, on the whole. He knows that in order to get at the truth he can press innocent suspects too hard during interrogation, and that he is prepared to bend the rules slightly in the interests of justice, but he has always been ‘a straight cop’. At the end of this volume, he is faced with a dilemma: would he break a solemn oath in order to convict a criminal? He had already admitted in Ge mig dina ögon that he had changed both as a human being and as a policeman in the course of his recent investigations, a process continued in the second volume. It will be interesting to see how far Lindmark develops in the final part of the trilogy.