The Ninth Grave
Stefan Ahnhem Spiderline
A German critic recently hailed Sweden’s Stefan Ahnhem as “the true heir to Stieg Larsson.” Such hyperbole seems excessive; although Ahnhem’s gruesome new thriller, The Ninth Grave, is getting a big push amid the recent flood of crime fiction, readers should prepare for a trade-off of sorts.
One can’t deny that it compels you to keep reading. Ahnhem’s narrative skills, well supported in Paul Norlen’s English translation, are obvious. So is his ability to smother the reader’s disbelief, despite the growing preposterousness of his plotting.
Readers expecting the psychological complexity of Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole novels or the sociological underpinnings sustaining the late Henning Mankell’s bleak and uncompromising Kurt Wallander thrillers, or even the crazy audacity of the late Stieg Larsson’s runaway bestsellers about dragon tattoos and the like, must settle for something less with the Grand Guignol horrors of The Ninth Grave.
Still, we are plunged into an attention- grabbing beginning when Sweden’s justice minister inexplicably vanishes as he leaves Parliament. The disappearance is a genuine puzzler for Fabian Risk, the Stockholm cop who has become Ahnhem’s series character, but when Fabian discovers the truth, we may find our credulity stretched.
Running counterpoint to this case is the bloody murder of a woman across the border in Denmark.
It’s being investigated by Copenhagen cop Dunja Hougaard, and as a character, she turns out to be more interesting than her Swedish counterpart.
Violence is the machine that drives the novel — that plus some garnishing of kinky sex.
Readers who enjoy wading through gore and who are tantalized by images of still-warm corpses deprived of their body parts, will have a field day with The Ninth Grave. But are we really expected to take it seriously as some kind of contemporary revenge tragedy? Some of us may see it as no more than a slickly concocted potboiler with pretensions.