The Ninth Grave

The Delhi News-Record - - BOOKS -

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.

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