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