Monday, 3 December 2012

Unknown - Mari Jungstedt


Mari Jungstedt is a Swedish writer who sets her murders on the island of Gotland.  This is, I believe, the third novel featuring dull copper Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas and unambitious TV reporter Johan Berg.  The others are called Unseen and Unspoken, but this appears to be a silly affectation on the part of her English-language publishers - as near as I can tell, the Swedish title of Unknown is something like Inner Circle, which at least has the merit of relevance.

Anyway, this is a tale of ritual murder and archaeology, which on the face of it sounds promising.  Unfortunately it isn't.  Two protagonists means Jungstedt covers all bases with no real effort in terms of plotting or deductive reasoning - if she needs to tell us something Knutas can't know, she simply switches to Berg.  The other problem is that both need to be rounded characters and thus have private lives which are not interesting enough to warrant the space devoted to them.  That said, the stuff with Johan and his new baby is decently done - but the mother of the child is just annoying.

The characters I would have liked to know more about are both spikey women - Knutas's deputy, DI Karin Jacobsson and Berg's punkish camerawoman Pia.  But they remained cyphers, Pia a tool for improbable plot elements.

The book is not without merits.  The local colour of Gotland is well done and there is quite a lot of skill in the way Jungstedt builds the tension in the final showdown.  Overall, though, not for me.  Nordic, certainly, but nowhere near noir enough. 

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