This book’s title totally gives the game away. The fate of Lars Johansson, not so very long retired from his position as head of Sweden’s national serious crime squad, is determined in the opening chapter during which he suffers a catastrophic cerebrovascular event. After a lifetime of good living, this stroke leaves him physically, emotionally and intellectually undermined. But that moment also provides the springboard for one final investigation, a chance to resolve a mishandled, 25-year-old cold case. Lars doesn’t believe in coincidence, but fate places him in the care of a doctor with mannerisms that remind him of a squirrel, a doctor who’s been troubled by evidence from that long-ago rape and murder of a little girl…
What follows is not merely a superb Scandi crime story but an outstanding novel of any genre. The subject could so easily have drifted into maudlin, morbid misery, but instead author Leif Persson skilfully steers this end of life story through the practical pitfalls of recuperating after a stroke, of coming to terms with mortality – and of piecing together a quarter-century old puzzle to bring a paedophile to justice.
The procedural aspect of the case feels flawless; detailed, credible and comprehensive. The supporting characters are each worthy of a book in their own right: Tilda, the home-help with tattoos and piercings and too much worldly experience for a young woman of her age. Max, the hulking young Russian who’s never met anyone stronger than he yet moves with silent grace. The Iranian refugee who fled after the revolution, lost his child in the same year that Sweden’s prime minister was assassinated, and who went on to become a medical multi-millionaire in the USA. Each figure is illuminated in turn as their story informs the overall plot, all play a crucial part in exposing the murderer.
The Dying Detective is quirky, original and engaging – despite its blunt, bleak subject matter. It’s impossible not to admire Lars as he struggles both with his newfound limitations and with accepting their inevitable implication. The story balances the relentless practical challenges of caring for an invalid with the stark moral choices that can face a criminal investigator: what action do you take is you uncover the perpetrator of a heinous crime, but the statute of limitations has expired? With no legal pathway to pursue, how is justice served?
This book utterly absorbed my attention for days. It succeeds on so many levels; intimate, societal, philosophical – and it also tells a gripping police procedural full of textural detail. The pages are packed with pithy comments, pithy observations on human nature, yet never bogs down in philosophy as the pieces fall into place in the criminal jigsaw. It was a pleasure to pick up and a bittersweet culmination to reach the conclusion.
This was the first book by Leif Persson which I’ve read: it certainly won’t be the last. The Dying Detective falls into the masterclass category of crime-writing: a credible, compelling mystery, a story to be savoured, wrapped around the best and the worst aspects of human behaviour. Easily one of the best books of 2016.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Dying Detective by Leif Persson is available as an ebook and hardback (paperback out Jan 2017)
BARGAIN BUY: A Last Act Of Charity is now half-price, just £1.99 in ebook format