Although it’s set in Sweden, this ripping thriller has more in common with mainstream American crime-fiction than the typical thoughtful, slow-burn Scandi crime. It’s all about the action and less about atmosphere – a fast-paced ensemble investigation, not a moody, windswept sonnet to the isolated solitude of the Nordic spirit. It’s certainly a lot more accessible than the quietly stylised literary thrillers, which can take understatement a little too far. That’s definitely not an issue with this series…
Almost every chapter in Eighteen Below ends with a ticking time-bomb of a cliffhanger. Some of these are sneakily defused a few pages later but others explode in utterly unpredictable directions that skew the storyline and confound expectations. Some of the plot convolutions stretched my credibility to snapping point, but I was enjoying it so much that my disbelief stayed suspended. Mostly.
There are at least half a dozen plotlines which reflect a spectrum of social issues – gang violence promoted on social media; institutionalised misogyny; homelessness; child abuse; identity theft – wrapped around a central story of a classical serial killer. We meet an almost untouchable sociopath with an unbeatable MO, so that even if the police have him in custody they can’t actually prove a thing.
This murderous romp centres on a police team of idiosyncratic investigators, almost all of whom have some kind of skeleton rattling around in the background. The team leader is an alcoholic, the central character’s marriage is collapsing, there are out of control offspring and rogue officers refusing to be taken off the team. If you can think of a crime-fiction cliché then it’s likely to be lurking in here somewhere.
I’d read the previous book in the ‘Fabian Risk’ series so was vaguely acquainted with the characters. That was no obstacle to enjoying this story which can certainly be read as a standalone – you just have to pay attention to the snippets of back story scattered along the way.
Last time out I was less than impressed by the author’s tendency to throw every conceivable plot device into the mix. The central premise of Eighteen Below is so original and timely, however, that I forgave Stefan Ahnhem for the tedious sexual discrimination sub-plot and his tendency to chuck absolutely everything into the mix. I do think this could’ve been a better book if the misadventures of disgraced Detective Dunja were downplayed, mind.
Ahnhem wraps up this storyline with a satisfying finale… but has been sneakily sowing the seeds for the next story all along. When I came to the final page I would’ve instantly bought the next book in the series, had it been available. Instead, I’m going to have to delay that gratification!
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
Eighteen Below by Stefan Ahnhem is available at Amazon