LAST GREAT READS FOR APRIL, 2016
The Sword of Justice, by Leif G. W. Persson
The absolute antithesis to the usual burnt-out but noble detective in thriller fiction returns, much to every Swedish Noir readers’ delight: Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström rears his head again, corpulent, crafty and amoral as ever – and just as successful, mainly because he is so expert at ‘making a bit on the side’ (what else is a man to do to supplement the basic wage?), and manipulating every system to his advantage.
He is still not popular (see 2014 review below) with those lesser beings, his colleagues; they know that every time he says – nearly every day – that he has to attend an important meeting at Headquarters in Stockholm he is really skyving off; filling his fat little frame with expensive food and drink, then going home to sleep the sleep of the just and/or avail himself of obliging female company, thanks to his growing reputation as Sweden’s premier crime fighter. His colleagues will never take kindly to all the orders and legwork he dispenses, particularly when his own dubious habits and chronic laziness are well known: yep, they’d love to see him fall flat on his smug face, preferably in something nasty and foul-smelling, but will it ever happen?
Not immediately, for Our Hero has received wonderful news: Thomas Eriksson, Sweden’s most crooked defence lawyer has been found murdered at his home, along with his huge Rotweiler. The police are hardly at a loss to name suspects; there are so many who want Eriksson dead that it will take considerable time to cross them off their list of ‘people of interest to the investigation’ – which (naturally) Bäckström is heading: as far as he is concerned, someone has done Sweden an enormous favour ridding it of such vermin – he is glad Eriksson is dead; still, it is up to him (and his grumbling, mumbling team) to wield The Sword of Justice and apprehend the killer.
Mr Persson is a master of characterisation – he has created an anti-hero absolutely unforgettable; portly, gluttonous, an unashamed leaker of info to the newspapers (for a hefty consideration) as the investigation continues, but a sharp little man intelligent and shrewd enough to figure out every angle of what is fast becoming a crime involving art fraud, the Swedish Mafia and – last but not least – a trail that could lead to (surely not!) – the Swedish monarchy.
And let us not forget Bäckström’s regrettable impulse buy: Isak the parrot, on his best behaviour in the Pet Shop, only to turn into the Parrot from Hell when his new owner brought him home. Isak plays a minor but important role in proceedings, becoming in his own little way as memorable as his owner, who trusts and prays that he will not meet the same fate.
Leif Persson has produced yet another winner: he effortlessly patrols Jo Nesbo country – with dark satire and delicious humour. SIX STARS!
He Who Kills the Dragon, by Leif G. W. Persson
Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström, surely the most outrageous policeman in Swedish thriller fiction, returns to shock and infuriate his long-suffering colleagues – not to mention the reader – in Mr Persson’s latest offering.
Bäckström has had some narrow escapes since ‘Linda – As in the Linda Murder’ which have nothing to do with apprehending murderers; rather, the long arm of the law has reached out to grab him (him, shining example of all that is noble and honourable in the Force. The nerve of them!) and it has taken all his resourcefulness to fend off charges of bribery, corruption – you name it – thrown at him, the result being not dismissal, as so many of his colleagues hoped, but exile for a year or two following up traffic violations - for Bäckström has an influential relative in the Police Association, so there! He is not incorruptible (as everyone already knows), just immovable.
When the story opens, Our Hero through various circumstances has been recalled to his usual duties, investigating the murder of an elderly pensioner in a block of flats in suburban Stockholm. He should be delighted to be back on the job, delegating with his usual superb flair all the work so that he ends up doing very little; instead, he is in the depths of despair after a compulsory visit to the Police Doctor who prescribes immediate weight-loss, lots of daily exercise and NO ALCOHOL – or else.
Bäckström is inconsolable. Life is shit. Eating lettuce leaves and drinking water is no way to live for a man of his appetites; he’s a gourmet, a connoisseur of strong drink and a fearless wielder of his Super Salami with various lucky partners in the comfort of his Hästens bed: if this is his future, he might as well resign from life right now.
Until God conveniently appears in a dream to Bäckström as he tossed and turned (on his Hästens bed) on the third day of his travail and Lo! God tells him to forget about pursuing the new path; the old path is his true path, so get back on it. What else can Bäckström do but obey? One doesn’t argue with God!
After a very satisfying meal of every food he loves and thought he’d never eat again, followed by a couple of very good beers, Our Hero is ready to concentrate again on his current murder investigation, and because he has a very good staff and a truly excellent Russian civilian investigator, it isn’t long before what everyone thought was the murder of an old pisshead by another old pisshead and all done and dusted by the weekend, turns out to be something much more challenging and complicated.
As before, Mr Persson gives us a wealth of detail, including mini-biographies of all the minor characters, but there is less sermonising than in ‘The Linda Murder.’ In this story that is not so important, for the dreadful Bäckström is such a force of nature and so outrageously entertaining that there is little room this time round for polemics - and it is an added pleasure to discover that (when he does it) he is actually very good at his job. Much to the frustration of his superiors, most of whom detest him to a greater or lesser degree, the ‘fat little bastard’ CAN solve serious crimes and get results – whether they like it or not. And Bäckström finds out that he who kills the dragon gets the princess – and what a princess! He’s scared stiff. FIVE STARS.
Riders, by Veronica Rossi Young Adult
18-year-old Army recruit Gideon Blake dies whilst training to be a part of the elite Ranger Regiment; on a training jump his main parachute fails to open and he plunges thousands of feet to his death. He knows he died; no-one could survive such a fall, but here he is in hospital, nursing terrible injuries that will take months of rehab – but as if that weren’t miraculous enough, his broken bones seem to be healing at a crazily rapid rate, so quickly that he is discharged early into his mother’s care. And that’s when life gets really weird, for he now wears a bracelet that seems moulded to his wrist, a bracelet made of an unknown red metal. He can’t remove it.
And Gideon seems to inspire aggression in people who had hitherto regarded him with kindness and friendship; as he heals (ever more rapidly) he decides to seek some kind of peace with his twin sister Anna, a college student in San Francisco, only to find himself mentally influencing her to drop her waste-of-space boyfriend (no loss there, he’s doing her a favour) and changing the mood of a student party, especially as it seems to be infiltrated by a gang of people so evil he is filled with a raging need to destroy them utterly: he will make WAR on them all!
Until Daryn, a mysterious girl appears at the same time, dragging him away from doing just that, and appraising him of his new role in life: he HAS died, but has been reborn as one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, called up again to fight the terrible scourge of evil that manifests itself now as The Kindred. Gideon is War, and he and Daryn must find Conquest, Famine and Death as quickly as possible so that they can prevent the Kindred from world domination.
Ms Rossi has written some breathtaking fantasy here with nail-biting action on every page. Her characterisations of the other Horsemen are as spectacular as they should be, and their weapons and steeds deserve special mention, particularly Gideon’s Red Horse, flames pulsing from mane to tail and the most terrifying thing he has ever seen: how will he ever learn to ride it when it wants to kill him if he even moves his eyeballs?
There is no shortage of smart, funny dialogue – Gideon is a motor mouth supremo, especially in his exchanges with Death, who loathes him sufficiently enough to try to cut him down with his scythe – often, but eventually the Horsemen unite as they must to join the great battle of Good versus Evil: may they triumph, but we will have to wait for the sequel to find out. FIVE STARS