Still Waters: more domestic drama than murder mystery

StillWatersThis squeaky-clean investigation falls solidly at the IKEA end of the Scandinavian spectrum; crisp, sun-bright and efficient, packed with affirmative action, a healthy work-life balance and all the grit and gravitas of a Ski yoghurt advert. There are some dead bodies; an implausible number of them in fact, given the holiday island seaside location and the cast of everso nice middle-class families – the type of folk you meet at the yacht club, who go on group picnics and discuss their investment portfolios. Lisbeth Salander would eat these people alive.

There is an intriguing mystery at the core of the plodding police investigation – in which it feels as if we’ve actually made all the phone calls and knocked on all the doors, such is the faithful rendition of detail. Dead bodies multiply in defiance of common sense and the link between them isn’t clear. Come to that, the cause of death isn’t exactly obvious and the close-knit nature of the island community makes uncovering connections tricky. The author provides plenty of clues and a smattering of small red fish to keep things interesting for the reader, but the mystery is only half the story in this book.

The majority of the tale is actually about the investigating officer (complete with an unhappy personal history, of course) and a local young mother, torn between family and career. If I’m being nice, it’s domestic drama. If I’m being snarky, then it’s soap pure and simple (that’s a complicated soap joke). Either way, we spend more time on the subplots, the swimming lessons, the endless blueberry tarts and sandwiches, the marital strife and such than we do with the actual murders and their resolution.

Evidently this type of low-key, slo-Scandi crime novel is extremely popular despite its lack of menace or stylish writing. It’s not quite ‘cosy’ but it’s much more like Midsommer than Mosley. The description of the Swedish vacation islands is extremely detailed and opens a fascinating window onto their extreme environment – saturated with holidaymakers for just eight weeks of the year and then deserted and isolated when the storms take hold. Sadly, the key characters and the minutiae of their personal lives didn’t inspire me to move on to the second in the series.


Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason

The Sandhamm Murders series is of course hugely popular and the first two books have been translated into English and are available at Amazon


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