Stefan Ahnhem. Victim Without a Face. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2015.
Back to the blood and gore in Sweden, a first novel from an experienced screenwriter. Cop Fabian Risk has just moved back to his hometown of Helsingborg from Stockholm when his new colleagues face a meticulously clever psychopath who is, literally, engineering the deaths of all his childhood classmates. Worse, Fabian could become one of the victims, yet none of the police can penetrate the killer's disguise. We come to know individuals on the investigating team well, plus a few Danish counterparts across the Øresund ... and their many strained relationships, marital and workwise.
While the killer's technological stunts verge on the improbable, they don't overshadow the message of school bullying; Ahnhem uses the device of an anonymous diary to reinforce it. So many threads as the climax builds with unbearable suspense from scene to scene, it kept me up way too late at night. Decidedly, Ahnhem knows how to deliver heartstopping action and memorable characters. Will we see more of Fabian Risk? ... please!
The princess cake he had just eaten was sitting in his stomach like a ton of bricks, keeping all his feelings from coming out. (187)
She had made a few attempts to poke a hole in the silence, which was taking up all the air in the car like an expanding balloon. (535)
Impatient to interview a patient:
"Dunja Hougaard?" asked the attending physician. He looked at her without batting an eye.She nodded.
"When I say stop, it's over. Do not keep going. Okay?"
Dunja already disliked him, and she continued along the corridor without answering."I hope you acknowledge the massive exception I am making for you. The responsibility for this patient's life rests with me and no-one else," the doctor went on, taking a left into another corridor. "And I intend to fulfill that responsibility." He stopped at a door guarded by two uniformed officers, and fixed his eyes on Dunja. "I hope you understand the gravity of this situation and that I can count on you to spare my patient any unnecessary digressions during your questioning."
"I suggest you open the door before he gets Alzheimer's." (182)
Father-son heart to heart:
"Do you miss your friends from Stockholm? I understand if that's what you ―"
"I don't know. The ones you used to play with?"
Theodor rolled his eyes.
"Or hang out with, or whatever you call it," Fabian went on, feeling like a blind man on a tightrope. "But you'll make new friends here. Well, maybe not right here. You'll have to leave this room and go out and ―"
"Are you done?"
Fabian nodded, realizing that he probably would have reacted just as Theodor did to a dad like him. He left the room and couldn't help feeling a certain amount of relief. (189)
Pain in the neck:
He smelled smoke and felt something get hotter and hotter. He turned around quickly, but he couldn't see anything that might explain the smell. Could he really be dreaming after all? Was he at home, asleep in his bed? The crackling sound was now right behind his ear, which suddenly stung with a terrible, sharp pain. Only then did he realize he was on fire. (272-3)
John Sandford. Deadline. New York: Berkley/Penguin Random House, 2014.
Another action-filled, often amusing crime novel with the irresistible Virgil Flowers. The fickle man has changed girlfriends from last I heard, which is neither here nor there. Doing a favour for his friend Johnson Johnson involves chasing a dog-theft ring in a hillbilly section of Minnesota. But Virgil then uncovers a meth lab and a well-established conspiracy of town worthies who are massively defrauding the county. When the murders begin, he calls in his allies Shrake and Jenkins to protect him while he systematically deconstructs the district school board one by one. One imagines his BCA (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) boss, Lucas Davenport, shaking his head and rolling his eyes. The final scene of dog liberation is hilarious; the wording functions as well as an IMAX camera view. Sandford plays it all like the master he is.
"He said you looked like a hippie who's lost his faith, or a cowboy who's lost his horse." (133)
"Lucky for you that you talked me out of being an alcoholic, or we'd both be drunk in a ditch somewhere." (404)
Meeting the locals:
"What about these dogs? You find them yet?"
"Not yet," Johnson said. He was uncharacteristically grim. "Come on inside. I got a whole bunch of ol' boys and girls for you to talk to."
"We're having a meeting?"
"We're having a lynch mob," Johnson said. (11)
The current attorney general had already hinted that he was going to run for the governor's office, and between now and then, would not be averse to favorable publicity that portrayed him as a protector of the people, a defender of freedom, but also a sincere, heartfelt, and honest spokesman for the larger and richer special interests.
As it happened, the Buchanan County school district presented a perfect chance to protect the public: it largely voted Republican, so, since the AG was a Democrat, a vigorous prosecution wouldn't piss off anybody critical, and would generally show up the Republicans as the pack of thieving, money-gouging, scheming hyenas that all true-blue Americans knew them to be.
That was the general idea; the actual words would be repackaged into something much softer and much, much more hypocritical. (332-3)
Cool as they come:
Virgil walked around to the driver's side, tagged by the yellow dog. Virgil looked at the dog, and the dog looked at Virgil. The dog had golden eyes, and it looked past Virgil into the empty passenger side of the truck.
Virgil said, "All right," and waved his hand, and the dog hopped up onto the driver's seat, then crossed to the passenger seat and sat down. Virgil said to the dog, "With my lifestyle, I can't have a dog."
The dog nodded, and looked out through the windshield, ready to roll.
D. Wayne said from the backseat, "When I get you―"
"Shut the fuck up." And to the dog, "Really. I can't. I'll give you a lift back to Trippton."
The dog nodded again and smiled a dog smile.
Virgil said, "Really." (396)
Karin Fossum. Calling Out For You! London: The Harvill Press, 2005.
Here's the dependable author of the Inspector Konrad Sejer series, meticulously laying background before a crime occurs. Gundar, having lived all his fifty years in a Norwegian village, goes to India to find a bride. Happily, he finds and marries Poona. Sadly, Poona is viciously murdered near the village upon her arrival. It's up to Sejer and his sidekick Skarre to determine among the villagers who is withholding information, who might be lying, as they anxiously gossip among themselves. Sejer is expert at processing body language and words of witnesses, but even with a great capacity for compassion his own feelings are impossible to articulate.
Really, the story is all about reactions to the crime and how they can change the people interacting around it. In the end is the murder truly solved? The only conclusion reached is peace for Gundar and the post-op recovery of Sejer's beloved dog. The rest is a rather restless cliffhanger: Gundar's sister Marie is still in a coma, the accused murderer is going to trial without direct evidence, and a disturbed teenager is hunting Skarre. We make our own conclusions? A bit disappointing in that regard. "Calling out for you!" ...? The title's relevance escaped me.
One-liner: The mother was like a broom the way she swept potential obstacles away from her son's path so that he would slide effortlessly straight into the goal. (184)
Sejer walked on. He never wasted much time thinking about his own affairs. However, deep inside this formal character was a huge appetite for people. Who they were, why they behaved as they did. Whenever he caught a guilty person and obtained a genuine confession he could close the case and file it. This time he was not so sure. Not only had the woman been killed, she had been beaten to a pulp. To kill was in itself extreme. To destroy a body afterwards was bestial. (73)
"Are we to understand, then, that you consider this a particularly brutal crime? In the context of Norwegian crime in general?"
Sejer looked over the crowded room. "I do not think it would be constructive to compare unrelated cases, in terms simply of brutality. Not least for the sake of the deceased. Nevertheless, I am willing to say that, yes, there is in this killing evidence of a degree of savagery which I have not had to witness at any time hitherto in my career as a policeman."
He could already see the headlines. Simultaneously, he thought of all the things he could have achieved during the hour the press conference lasted. (94)
"You're saying he's a psychopath."
"That's your term, not mine, and by the way that's a concept I have never quite got to grips with."
"So you're going to go on wearing him down until you get a confession?"
"I'm trying to the best of my abilities to get him to a place where he understands that he has to make a confession. In order to move on."
"What if you don't get it? Do we have enough to go to court with as it stands?"
"Probably not. And that worries me."
"How is it possible to smash someone up the way the killer did without leaving traces of himself?"
"It happens all the time." (229)