A meticulous Scandi crime police procedural, one told with wit and intelligence and no small measure of on-the-job experience. When a young woman is murdered during an unusual heatwave in a Swedish summer, all the competent cops are sensibly on holiday. The flaky chief of police, who goes delightfully further round the bend as the book progresses, despatches one of the National Crime Squad’s least effective detectives to head up the task force assisting the rural police.
Backstrom is a brilliant creation. Lazy, bigoted, boozy and not beyond fiddling his expenses, he’s supposed to be safely stashed away reviewing cold cases. Instead his mismanagement of the investigation forms the backbone of the story, as his team and the locals follow the inevitable dead ends, dubious suspects and dodgy information.
Throughout it all, Backstrom slyly sidesteps any real work, misleads his superiors, schmoozes psychologists, rubbishes his colleagues, denigrates female officers in particular (and all ‘little’ women in general), and grabs a quick nap before the serious business of drinking can begin. Yet he’s far from stupid and isn’t always entirely wrong… as becomes obvious when a suspect turns up who is uncomfortably close to home for the police department. Backstrom is one of those irritating creations who you love to hate but who frequently says what everyone in the room is thinking but dare not voice aloud.
While Backstrom blusters, skives and connives, other officers quietly get on with the real work of policing, and here Persson has crafted a resolutely solid murder mystery, in which the loose threads of the victim’s life – and the activities of those around her – knit together to reveal the killer. Persson avoids most literary contrivances and instead concentrates on the nitty gritty of the investigation. Forensics, witness statements, interviews and background; all are considered by the true detective of the story. He has his own story, too, and his haunted memories of summer biking rides with his father are particularly poignant.
Now and then, Persson enjoys himself with an absurdity or ten – like the ‘Menfolk’ social vigilantes, or the SWAT team’s ‘practice attack’ on police HQ. Such affectionate diversions give Linda greater substance than the average police procedural; as with Persson’s other books the activity in the margins is almost as important as the story itself.
Some readers won’t enjoy the meandering narrative or the ambling pace. This isn’t a thriller nor is it particularly noir. It is hugely rewarding and entertaining and, with quiet precision, eventually introduces the wonderful Lars Martin Johansson. It’s an ideal place to start if you’re new to the author, and have a few days to dedicate to some excellent prose.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Linda, As In The Linda Murder by Leif Persson is available in paperback and ebook formats