Camilla Ceder. Frozen Moment. UK: Phoenix Paperback/Orion House, 2011.
Christian Tell, lead homicide detective, is a two-dimensional character for some time; he personifies the "emotionally inaccessible" cop often found in someone whose life is the job. The unusual killing of a man in a rural area seems devoid of any motive, but a second murder by the same method instigates a wide search to link the two victims. Tell's guilt over becoming personally involved with Seja, a witness in the first case, opens up more flesh and blood in his character. At the same time, we are following the story of events sixteen years earlier, revolving around quiet teenager Maya; we know somehow the police will have to connect the threads. Seja, as a budding journalist, finds herself irresistibly drawn toward the search thanks to a resurfacing but vague memory.
Finally learning that a third murder is likely to happen, the police approach from different angles. Ultimately Seja is endangered. Each investigator on the team has his or her domestic problems; Tell greatly admires his boss Östergren, and is deeply shaken when she has a crisis. So grows his awareness that immersion in the job could cost him the chance of having a real life ‒ whether he wants one or not. Guilt of some sort is a noticeable element among various depicted personae. My only complaint (it also holds for some other authors) is that more dialogue interaction could have been used to reveal depth of character. Oh. ... And a comparison to Lizbeth Salander is highly fanciful.
As far as they are concerned she has disappeared in a puff of smoke. (20)
Being seventeen means that every step is for ever. (23)
As a general rule, Maya's mother had always found it difficult to distinguish where she ended and other people began. (61-2)
"You have your work, and that means you know who you are." (373)
Was this woman a physiotherapist or a fortune teller? And it got worse as she massaged Beckman's wronged body with alternate hard and soft strokes.
"Unspoken truths often settle in the muscles and turn into pain. Things you want to say, but don't have the courage. Particularly in the musculature at the back of the neck and in the face. Many people experience pain in the jaw and even the teeth. When the mouth refuses to form those liberating words, they gather around it like an indefinable pain that refuses to go away. There are tensions in your body that have turned into inflammations. If you're not careful, you could end up with a chronic condition. It's also not unusual for a person to burst into tears when someone touches them, if they're not used to it. Linking the body to the brain."
Beckman never went back. Instead she went to a doctor and got a prescription for Diclofenac. (79)
"I don't live far away," he said. "We're going to freeze to death."
And it was true. In any case, she wasn't exactly capable of driving.
Ending up in bed wasn't part of the plan. It was, he thought on the morning of Christmas Eve as the pale sun stabbed him in the eye, the result of poor judgement followed by severe intoxication. This could cost him dear and would be difficult to explain to his colleagues. And to Östergren, if the gossip got that far. And it probably would, given that the police station was like one big coffee morning.
... He had always found these unwritten rules difficult to understand: the game that had to be played at the beginning of a relationship. The precisely measured amount of give and take a man must master, in order to avoid being perceived as an arrogant bastard with intimacy problems, or a suffocating control freak. (100-101)
Personal survival strategy:
When a murder enquiry wasn't going anywhere it stressed him out; it was always the same. As time passed, he felt a personal sense of responsibility that the crime hadn't been cleaned up. Responsibility to the relatives, of course. But also to his colleagues and superiors. He slept without dreaming. He noticed that he was thinking differently. He made an effort to think in wide circles around the investigation, and often did so at the expense of other mental activity. He became more brusque in his dealings with people. Rational. Emotionally muted, in order to use his energy where it was needed most. What was left was a fairly isolated individual; he was well aware of that. After all, nobody said that being aware of your faults meant you could change them. And he wasn't sure he even wanted to change. Like his father, he had found a strategy for survival that seemed to work. (262-3)
Shari Lapena. The Couple Next Door. Toronto: Doubleday Canada, 2016.
Anne and Marco Conti's baby is suddenly gone — whether misplaced, lost, kidnapped, or killed. Sympathy, right? The first fifty pages or so evoked only my impatience with this pathetic, boring couple who left their child alone at home while they partied next door. Fortunately the story picked up before I quit. Anne has been in a postpartum depression ‒ only the first of her secrets to appear ‒ resenting her flamboyantly attractive neighbour Cynthia. Marco's business status is iffy, and he hates his arrogant, wealthy father-in-law who dotes on the baby Cora. That's enough for Detective Rasbach to consider both of them suspicious.
Nearly all is told through Anne's or Marco's eyes but Rasbach is forming his own theories based on the timing of events that night. If it's a ransom case, a demand is slow to arrive. Whether Cora is alive or dead is Anne's constantly revolving nightmare. The breakdown of two rather ordinary people through stages of guilt, blame, shame, rage, and fear proceeds apace; it's not only the missing baby, it's the anguished effort to conceal some information. Anne's family is as much a hindrance as a help. The next door neighbours are oddly quiet. Lapena's cool, dispassionate style is perfectly suited to the milieu for building suspense. I predict, not too far off: the movie.
"My parents are very hard to please, and they're very controlling." (117)
Marco's shirt is already sticking to his back as he hits the highway. (148)
Two-liner: "Postpartum depression is not the same thing as postpartum psychosis. I am clearly not psychotic, Detective." (116)
Shame and desperation:
But Anne and Marco need the media to take an interest. They need Cora's face plastered all over the newspapers, the TV, the Internet. You can't just take a baby out of someone else's house in the middle of the night and have no one notice. It's a busy neighborhood. Surely someone will come forward with information. Anne and Marco must do this, even thought they know they'll be the target of some nasty press once it all comes out. They are the parents who abandoned their baby, left her home alone, an infant. And now someone has her. They are a Movie of the Week. (47)
A different issue:
"What's up?" Marco says. He wants to keep this short.
"I have something I want to talk to you about," Cynthia says, a little more businesslike. "Can you come by the house?"
"Why? Do you want to apologize?"
"Apologize?" She sounds surprised.
"For lying to the police. For telling them that I came on to you when we both know you came on to me."
"I'm sorry about that. I did lie," she says, with an attempt at playfulness.
"What the fuck? You're sorry? Do you have any idea how much trouble you've caused me?"
"Can we discuss it?" She's not playful anymore.
"Why do we need to discuss it?"
"I'll explain when you get here," Cynthia says, and abruptly hangs up the phone. (194)
Anne thinks she hears her baby crying. Cora must be just waking up from her nap. She peels off her gardening gloves and goes quickly inside and washes her hands at the kitchen sink. She can hear Cora upstairs in her crib, crying for her. "Just a minute, sweetheart," she calls. "I'll be right there." She feels happy.
Anne rushes upstairs to get her baby, humming a little. She goes into the nursery. Everything looks the same, but the crib is empty. She suddenly remembers, and it's like being violently swept out to sea. She collapses into the nursing chair.
She's not right—she knows she's not well. She should call someone. Her mother. But she doesn't. Instead she rocks herself back and forth in the chair.
She would like to blame Cynthia for all her problems, but she knows Cynthia doesn't have her baby. (244-5)
Stefan Ahnhem. The Ninth Grave. Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 2016.
Such a brilliant but brutal tale, extremely challenging (for the cops and the reader) but compelling, impossible to put down. Swedish cops Fabian Risk and Malin Rehnberg are after a cruel serial killer; Danish cop Dunja Hougaard also struggles with a series of mutilated victims. Both police forces, with great difficulty, eventually backtrack to their respective killers who have been ingeniously elusive. Both cases are pronounced solved and closed by superior officers. And yet, Fabian and Dunja separately risk their jobs to go even further; the chance of an overlap is agonizing for the reader because of snippets inserted from a deus ex machina. Ultimately, that premise for motive may be the book's only weak point.
Two strong policewomen with sharp insights share centre stage, one pregnant and one prey to sexual harassment (couldn't be more timely). A map of the area would have been useful — so many geographic place names; sorting out Helsingborg and Helsingør is just one of the confusing spots. But twists and surprises galore. In the end, Fabian disappoints himself; redemption is out of the question but he will return. Love the detectives, hate the grisly moments ... not all sadistic details of the victims were necessary, thank you! Yet the author has to be top-ranked among Scandi-noir writers.
Panic spread like a forest fire through her body. (74)
The discrepancies were the common denominator. (136)
He was quite unprepared for the tears that suddenly started dripping from his eyes onto the floor. (272)
"She said that living with you is like living with an empty shell or a shed skin." (491)
The serial theory:
"If you would let me finish what I'm saying, maybe you would get your vision back and see that there's not only a connection, but that it actually seems to be the same perpetrator."
Edelman set his cup down again, the lump of sugar still between his teeth. It's lucky she's pregnant, thought Fabian. Neither he nor any of the others would have gotten away with that tone, especially not after a press conference, which, nine times out of ten, made Edelman extra touchy.
"What do you think, Fabian?" Malin gave him a look that suggested his very survival depended on his agreement.
Fabian nodded, even if he really didn't know what to think. As Malin was saying, there certainly were things that suggested they were dealing with the same perpetrator, but he couldn't understand how, and in a way he felt just as blind as Edelman. He'd tried gettig in touch with Hillevi Stubbs to see if she'd discovered any technical leads that might reinforce their theory, but she had her phone turned off, which she often did when there was a lot going on. (168-9)
"Oh no, not another crazy. And he's been released?"
"He's been out for three years and four months."
"So he's been declared competent?" asked Malin, shaking her head. "As if a little medicine and therapy can help anyone capable of these crimes."
"As if," said Tomas. "The rest of the medical world accepts that a paralyzed lower body will always be paralyzed, but psychology is different. Everyone can get healthier with a little treatment, regardless of how disabled they are."
Malin looked at Tomas with a surprised expression. "Did you think of that yourself, or did you read a newspaper for the first time?" (178)
Dunja looks east:
She looked beyond the wet dock and the boats that were moored along the quay opposite towards the back side of Kronberg Castle — the last outpost of the East.
She often reflected on this when she looked out over the Sound and saw Sweden towering up on the opposite side. Their neighbouring country was officially neutral and undoubtedly the Swedes leaned more toward the West in their basic values, but the sensibilities of the East had always been apparent with all their rules, state liquor stores, and the like.
But her feelings were completely different this time. Instead of thinking the Swedes were hopelessly behind Denmark, she now thought they were further ahead. She didn't know if this shift was caused by meeting that very pregnant policewoman from Sweden, or the fact that she'd just set foot in the country for the first time only a couple of days ago. All she knew for sure was that, despite her experiences in Kävlinge, she felt an increasingly strong desire to go there again. (384)