A solid Scandinavian police procedural, set in urban, modern Sweden, ‘The Disappeared’ is not your typical melancholic Nordic noir. The writing is plain and accessible; the style is matter of fact and occasionally straightforward to the point of being clumsy. But the author has constructed an intriguing mystery, one which successfully kept me involved throughout the lengthy story.
After being vaguely disappointed by Kristina Ohlsson’s previous novel, ‘Silenced’, I was in two minds about whether to bother with ‘The Disappeared’. But it proved to be a far better book than its predecessor; a densely-woven murder mystery spanning several decades, with the core plot enhanced by the ongoing and convoluted private lives of the investigating team of detectives. Where the previous book had been overwhelmed by (to me) tedious details about mundane failing marriages and personal pregnancy angst, here the back-story is usefully employed to add heft to the puzzle and meaning of the mystery. It helps that the author uses a nifty device – a subsequent investigation of the investigation – to chop up the timeline and ratchet up the tension. The tone of the behind-the-scenes segments with the various police officers has changed as this series progresses, too; it’s more subtle and much less hectoring. In the earlier books there were whole chapters which were effectively lectures on politically-correct behaviour in the office and the daily trials of a working mother: worthy, but dull…
Here, the plot follows an investigation into a newly-discovered body of a young woman who died a couple of years ago, but it rapidly expands to draw in a bewildering array of different characters; a famous author convicted of killing her husband who hasn’t spoken since; a university professor accused of raping a student; a young lad with every motive for the recent murder… but who is hard to connect to the older bodies which soon follow the girl’s out of the ground. It’s a complicated tale but one which makes satisfying sense when you reach the conclusion.
My only real criticism is that too many of the detectives become embroiled in the case on a personal basis. There are two staggeringly huge coincidences which defy the laws of nature – and, sure, they ramp up the drama, but just one of them would have been hard to swallow. I also struggle to like any of the central characters, or feel any great attachment to their domestic strife / success. I wouldn’t buy the next book in this series just to spend time with them – instead it’ll depend on whether the plot sounds as interesting as this one was.
Solid, but not astonishing. A good book to get engrossed in at an airport lounge which will last a long-haul flight.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Disappeared by Kristina Ohlsson is available as an ebook, hardback or paperback