The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt
The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt (Stockholm Text, 2012 — translation by Tiina Nunnally) is the fifth of the novels featuring Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and the television journalist Johan Berg. Following in the more general European tradition, this police procedural series depends on a blend between the immediate puzzle to be solved and the evolving stories of all the repeat characters. In this book, we begin with the murder of a quiet family man who’s on holiday with his wife and two small children. No matter where he is, this man is a slave to his routine. Before first light, he’s out of his bed and out for a run. Since they have taken a caravan on their usual plot at the Sundersand campsite on the island of Faro, his usual route is along the beach. A few hours later, his body is found floating in the surf just off the shore. There’s a single gunshot to the head and multiple post-mortem shots to the abdomen. With Knutas away on holiday in Denmark with his wife Lina, it falls to his new deputy, acting Detective Superintendent Karin Jacobsson, to lead the investigation. Naturally, Johan Berg continues his work as a journalist so he’s shadowing the investigation while trying to patch up his relationship problems with Emma Winarve.
As is always the case when a murder takes place in a holiday resort, most of the people on the island are passing through. Only a small number of people actually live in this part of Gotland all year round. Since this appears to be a revenge killing involving a considerable amount of rage, the investigation immediately focuses on the victim and his building business. Yet the first set of interviews with his wife and business partner shows no tangible evidence of threats. It seems unlikely that a killer was chasing after him in anger about work done badly or for any other reason. This is confirmed because no-one of significance seems to have taken the ferry to the island that morning. The three people who made the crossing could have had opportunity, but they have alibis and absolutely no apparent motive for wanting to kill this builder. Yet, if this is a revenge killing, there will have to be some consideration of morality. It’s an entirely human and understandable reaction to strike back at someone who has injured you. The practice of an eye for an eye has wide support, but if it was widely adopted, the results would be anarchic. In early history, the persistence of blood feuds destroyed the peace of communities and forced the creation of police forces to enforce laws. In our modern times, the police will always press forward with the investigation, leaving it to the courts to decide whether justice and morality will coincide in the treatment of offenders.
Showing a certain lack of trust in his deputy, Knutas makes an early return from his holiday, but he’s both relieved and frustrated to find that Karin has done all she should. Now it’s just a case of starting again with a fresh set of eyes to walk the ground and talk to the witnesses. Meanwhile Johan and his camera operator Pia find someone prepared to talk off the record about the family of the victim. It seems there were problems. Men came round to their house and threats were made. The source is not sure of the nationality of these men, saying they may be from one of the Baltic states. Needless to say, the broadcast of this information on the national news is an annoyance to Knutas but, when he pursues it, two clear possibilities for further investigation emerge. One is that the building company has been using illegal labour recruited from outside Sweden. The second is that the victim was dealing with some Russians who were illegally importing alcohol. The pool of people who might have had a motive to kill him narrows.
As the investigation proceeds, Johan and Emma seem to have reached the end of the road. Despite the fact they have a young child as a reason for living together as a couple, Emma still can’t forgive herself or Johan for the fact of their child’s kidnapping. For those of you new to this series, the couple meet in Unseen and continue in somewhat tempestuous style in Unspoken. The stresses of the murderous game played out in The Killer’s Art have now driven Emma into a very negative state of mind. We wait to see what she will decide. The same book also saw Knutas struggling with the question of who to promote as his deputy. The choice of Karin was not uncontroversial. There are now hints of mutual sexual interest in this book as the two find themselves with the opportunity to meet socially. With Lina Knutas due to return home from Denmark, however, Anders leaves before anything serious can happen.
Knutas continues with his ambivalence towards the press in general and Johan in particular. The more active co-operation between the two that has characterised the earlier books is not on show here. Nevertheless, their independent efforts do move things forward and this allows Johan more time to make decisions about his life. Given the events in The Killer’s Art, Emma’s emotional difficulties are understandable, but I did find this element of the thread less successful. Similarly, I’m not certain Knutas would be tempted by thoughts of a relationship with Karin. There’s no doubt he acted rashly in returning prematurely and it’s right he should feel guilty in undermining her position. This does not seem a reasonable trigger for acting on any sexual impulses.
Taken overall and in terms of structure, Mari Jungstedt slowly replays past history in a series of flashbacks. About two-thirds of the way through The Dead of Summer, it becomes fairly obvious what must have happened and, more importantly, who the killer must be. That said, the actual resolution was rather unexpected. I’m not entirely sure it strikes the right note but I understand the emotions involved. Summing up, I was quickly involved and carried through by a nicely paced narrative in a smooth translation. The puzzle itself is elegantly constructed with the hunt for the killer(s) full of tension. The ending leaves everything very nicely poised between the leading characters. If you have read the other books, this will leave you waiting impatiently for the next. That said, this episode is reasonably successful as a stand-alone so, if you accept my advice to try The Dead of Summer, you could pick this up and then slowly work your way through the others. It’s worth the effort.
A copy of this book was sent to me for review.