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Thursday, June 7, 2012

Midwinter Blood, by Mons Kallentoft ($25.99)

It is February and the Swedish town of Linköping "is paralyzed, the city's streets draped limply upon the crust of the earth, the condensation on the windows making the houses blind." No one wants to go out in the terrible cold, but someone has and a body hangs from a tree. Perhaps it is a midwinter sacrifice, but for what reason? To quickly bring about the end of winter and its isolation? To appease the gods for past sins?

Detective Malin Fors is 33 years old, is divorced, and has a 13-year-old daughter. She works too hard, drinks too much, and has no idea what thoughts run through her daughter's head. She often wonders who she has turned out to be and how she lost touch with everything that mattered to her. She and her partner Zeke Martinsson may be looking for who murdered poor Bengt Andersson, the hanging man, but they also look for signs that happiness is possible, that there is a place where no evil exists. Zeke finds it in music, and Malin is still looking.

Very heavy-duty stuff. It takes over 400 pages to ponder it.

There is a lot of beauty in Mons Kallentoft's writing. For instance:
[Pathologist] Karin Johannison…is flapping her arms around her heavily padded body, elegant even though making an inelegant gesture. Small fragments of feathers fly up in the air like misshapen snowflakes.
…as if people in their despair and fear and anger are capable of doing anything to each other. As if more and more people feel that they're somehow out of reach, beyond their own and that of everyone else as well.
The book is often elegant, but it is incredibly slow-moving. It pretends to be a police procedural, but it isn't in the truest sense, especially not when part of the narrative is an imagined soliloquy by a corpse, i.e., Bengt Andersson. There's a lot of interior chatter because several characters' thoughts are transparent, not just Malin's. Sometimes the action gets going, only to be pulled back to observe some facet of Malin's life that needs patching up. It's a literary dysrhythmia on loneliness and alienation more than a mystery. And don't get me started on what the resolution was all about.

This is a book for people who like big servings of character development and the setting, who don't mind hearing about the minutiae of some inconsequential things side-by-side with only slight glimpses of major elements.

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