Swedish slaugh­ter

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - ALAN MON­TAGUE

SWE­DEN LOST one of its ma­jor crime writ­ers ear­lier this month with the death of Hen­ning Mankell. So no more de­tec­tive Kurt Wal­len­der. Can Kristina Ohls­son’s hero Alex Recht help fill the gap?

The Cho­sen (Si­mon & Schus­ter, £14.99) is the fifth out­ing for the vet­eran Stock­holm po­lice­man and his side­kick Fredrika Bergman and sees the pair in­ves­ti­gat­ing mur­ders in the city’s “Solomon Jewish com­mu­nity”.

A teacher at the com­mu­nity’s school is shot dead and two young boys ab­ducted and also shot dead, their heads cov­ered with pa­per bags.

Both boys are Is­raeli, their fam­i­lies hav­ing set­tled in Swe­den a decade be­fore. The mur­ders seem linked to the Pa­per Boy, a fig­ure ap­par­ently in­vented by kib­butzniks to frighten their chil­dren into keep­ing away from strangers. But the Pa­per Boy also has a con­nec­tion to a botched Is­raeli se­cu­rity op­er­a­tion on the West Bank.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion is com­pli­cated by the pres­ence of a Mos­sad agent, in Stock­holm os­ten­si­bly to hire a much-needed se­cu­rity chief for the com­mu­nity — and by the in­volve­ment of the Swedish se­cu­rity ser­vice’s head of counter-ter­ror­ism, a Jewish woman with her own dark, Mos­sad se­cret.

Ohls­son her­self is a former coun­tert­er­ror­ism ex­pert for the Swedish gov­ern­ment and says she has been fas­ci­nated by the his­tory of the Jewish peo­ple her whole life. She wrote The Cho­sen sit­ting “in the his­toric Amer­i­can Colony Ho­tel in Jerusalem… some­thing I had dreamt of for so long: to spend time in Is­rael and write a book.”

All the Is­raelis she por­trays — the Mos­sad agent, the mur­dered boys’ par­ents, the kib­butzniks Bergman meets when the in­ves­ti­ga­tion moves to Is­rael — are dam­aged by the ex­pe­ri­ence of liv­ing in a con­stant state of con­flict. Recht, too — who be­lieves he has Jewish roots way back in his fam­ily tree — and Bergman have their psy­cho­log­i­cal scars, years of deal­ing with tragedy hav­ing taken its toll on their fam­ily lives.

The de­tect­ing oc­ca­sion­ally gets bogged down in some glum navel gaz­ing and the story oc­ca­sion­ally sags a lit­tle. There’s a rather clunky co­in­ci­dence in­volv­ing a vi­o­lin case, and it is hard to be­lieve that the po­lice would fail to check the alibi of the fa­ther of one of the mur­dered boys un­til over 500 pages in. Or per­haps not; Recht and Bergman are ini­tially baf­fled by the crimes and never re­ally get to the bot­tom of the mys­tery, which may re­flect the real-life frus­tra­tions of po­lice work, but here it feels un­sat­is­fac­tory.

Ohls­son doesn’t give much de­tail about the Solomon com­mu­nity and there’s no real sense of Swedish Jewish life. The scenes set in Jerusalem, how­ever, are much more vivid.

All the Is­raelis she por­trays are dam­aged by liv­ing in a con­stant state of con­flict

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