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Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Cruel Stars of the Night, by Kjell Eriksson ($13.95)(c2007)

(This review contains a spoiler, of sorts. Not a tremendously serious one and not one that the reader can't see coming a mile off, but if you like to go at your books with no preconceived notions, give this review a pass. And since you're not going to read this review, let me tell you what the bottom line is: If you haven't read any other Kjell Eriksson book, read The Princess of Burundi first. Perhaps it delineates the characters better. Then you can head into this one knowing who everyone is.)

This is another one of those novels that can't be read without having read the previous ones in the series. I was at sea with all the police personnel introduced willy-nilly and mostly lacking descriptors. Ann Lindell was clearly the main character in this book. She is one of the homicide detectives in Uppsala, Sweden. But who the heck are Ola Haver, Sammy Nilsson, Charles Morgansson, Beatrice Andersson, Allan Fredricksson, Eskil Ryde, Asa Lantz-Andersson, and Ottoson? I managed to pick the following out: Ryde and Morgansson are with forensics. Eventually Ottoson emerges as everyone else's boss (Lieutenant, Captain, Chief, Sarge, first name?). Jonsson and Martensson pop up a couple of times. They are technicians, and we don't really get to know anything about them, so you can safely let them slip from your thoughts. Yes, I could go back and read the book again and take better notes. But that's not going to happen. Besides, the play's the thing.

Two 70-ish men clearly have been murdered. They both seem to have led innocent, productive lives, and there's no link between them. Another 70-ish man is missing. His daughter appears more and more fraught and frantic throughout the book, but is it because her father is missing or because she is glad he is missing? Although for a long time their story is presented separately from the other two cases, the reader must hazard a guess that eventually there must be a connection, otherwise the juxtaposition of the stories would be aimless. Is there a serial killer ranging the countryside looking for old men to bash on the head? Is the professor another victim?

Although the story follows a few of the detectives as they track down clues and live their lives, it is to Ann Lindell that Kjell Eriksson returns over and over. She is a 30-something, single mother. Her preschooler is her heart's delight, but it is difficult to balance the stressful and demanding work of a detective with that of a mother. Eriksson sympathetically presents her dilemma.

It really wasn't until about three-fourths of the way in the book, when Ann is trying to find some way to link the cases, that it finally starts to move along. It is at this point, too, that we realize that Laura, the professor's daughter, is hauling some serious psychological luggage. The police procedural part -- once I gave up trying to figure out how all the detectives related to each other, what they looked like, how old they were, etc. -- was interesting, especially when one of the detectives has a brainstorm, involving Queen Silvia, about why the old men were killed.

Let's summarize. Characters were confusing. Ann's story was good. Book lagged until the last fourth, but that part was good. Interesting side bits. Probably would have enjoyed it more had I read The Princess of Burundi first.

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