Monday, June 29, 2009

Two Mysteries

I've been reading a lot of reviews of Scandinavian mysteries lately so when AndiF lent me a sack full of "BritLit" for the summer I was pleased to find a Scandinavian mystery inside. Missing, by Karin Alvtegen (translated from Swedish by Anna Paterson), was published in 2000 and won Scandinavia's best crime novel of the year. It was nominated for an Edger here in the US this year.

I read it almost straight through without stopping. The protagonist is Sybilla who we meet in the restaurant of an upscale Stockholm hotel where she is apparently trying to pick up a single male diner at the table next to hers. Is she a prostitute? Is she a con artist? No, she is homeless, and trying to have someone pay for a nice hotel room for her where she can take a bath before she returns to her life on the streets? Fortunately the gentleman pays for her room. Unfortunately he is found murdered the next morning and she was the last person seen with him. So her previously anonymous life on the streets is disrupted by her "wanted" status.

I won't give away the ending, but Sybilla is an interesting character that you don't often see in novels. She comes from a wealthy family in which she never felt accepted. Although she has chosen to live a life on the streets rather than live with her family in reality her choice to disappear and become invisible to the Swedish social welfare system means that she has no choice except to live on the street because to do otherwise requires a govt. ID number by which she can be traced.

The mystery portion of the novel is good although I thought the ending was a little forced. But I recommend it. I can't decide if it is better summer reading or winter reading (Sweden always seems like a winterish place to me).

Also in the sack of books was another mystery, Burial of Ghosts by Ann Cleeves. Like Sybilla, the protagonist of this story, Lizzie Bartholomew, is also something of a lost woman, starting out life as an abandoned baby who is placed with English social services. Now an adult social worker, she is drifting after some kind of traumatic incident that has forced her to leave her job. In Morocco she has a one night fling with a married man that ends up having unexpected repercussions.

This book kept my attention but I didn't like Cleeves' style that much. Where Alvteger's story telling was pinpoint sharp and tightly focused, Cleeves' story is all over the place as Lizzie tells (parts) of her story to other people and to herself and as she experiences nightmarish flashbacks that eventually give us the whole story of the traumatic incident she lived through. I can't say that I anticipated the ending completely but it wasn't wholly unexpected.

If I could only read one of these books, I'd enthusiastically recommend Missing but I'd skip Burial of Ghosts.