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Kassandra Carin Bartosch Edström, Kassandra (Cassandra)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2014.

Reviewed by Deborah Bragan-Turner in SBR 2014:2

Review Section: Fiction

Carin Bartosch Edström’s novel Cassandra is one of crime and mystery set in the world of medical science and psychiatry at the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. The story begins in the opulent surroundings of the Swedish Medical Association’s banqueting suite as the handsome young doctor Alexander Seher celebrates the acceptance of his doctoral thesis. Its topic is the Taljéus syndrome, a debilitating mental condition that seems to affect mainly stressed-out executives. The champagne flows and the room is full of distinguished guests, but among the tributes they find a poem foretelling bloody vengeance and signed Cassandra, the prophetess who warned of doom but was never believed. Before the party is over, a murder has been committed.

Edström introduces a fine cast of potential suspects, among them renowned professor of psychiatry and TV guru Ragnar Taljéus, his ex-wife Ingrid, also a successful doctor, toastmaster Martin Lilje, embittered, overlooked professor Tore Kollberg, aggrieved research student Suss Olivequist, ambitious pharmaceutical representative Camilla Laurell and two student doctors called Elin and Kajsa. Another guest is Alexander’s father, wealthy financier Gerhard Seher, who, as we later learn, together with Ragnar set up the Lion Gate treatment centre for sufferers of Taljéus syndrome. 

At this point, DI Ebba Schröder enters the scene and soon uncovers links to the death of Ragnar’s colleague and friend, Philip Wahlgren. Wahlgren, known as ‘Figge’, supposedly killed himself thirty years earlier. As the web of lies, betrayal and deceit grows more intricate, Ebba assembles her evidence and becomes ever more distrustful of the psychiatrists who stand in judgment on the mental health of others. 

This elegantly written, complex and intelligent novel holds the reader’s attention from start to finish. The cover of the Swedish original depicts a still-life painting, and it nicely reflects the author’s delicate eye for detail. The references to Greek myth are seen throughout – the choice of title, the name of the treatment centre, the sacrifice of Iphigenia and the death of ‘Figge’ – as well as allusions to German philosophy and literature, beginning with a quotation from Christa Wolf’s novel of the same name. The academic setting lends gravitas and glamour to the story and the skilful portrayal of the characters demonstrates the chilling, yet utterly credible depths of their greed and ambition. The twists and turns of the tightly crafted plot develop intriguingly as Ebba uncovers more about each of the suspects, while the reader learns more about her – her training in psychology, her love of music, her failed marriage and her relationship with her new boss.

Carin Bartosch Edström was brought up in Rome and Lund and currently lives in Stockholm. She has been an orchestra director and composer and a translator from Italian and German. Cassandra is her second novel with Ebba Schröder at its centre. Stockholm medical academia provides a neat setting for this sensitive, educated, music-loving female detective. I’m hoping there will be more Ebba Schröder mysteries. I’m a fan.

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