A trainee policewoman in her twenties is brutally murdered in the early hours of a weekend morning in the southern Swedish town of Växjö. Her name is Linda Wallin and the investigation into her death is described in lengthy detail in this novel.
I feel I’m being mean, or at the very least inconsistent, when I complain that LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER, is too long. Too slow. After all when reviewing a previous book of this author’s that I loved, I wrote “…it is rather slow, especially in the longest middle section. But even though I recognised as I was reading that the pace was not really my cup of tea I knew that I wouldn’t mind in this instance because of the sense I had from the outset that my patience would be rewarded.” But for me the difference is that I didn’t feel LINDA had quite the same payoff for its pages (and pages and pages) of minutiae and inconsequential tangents. At the end of the earlier book I felt that I could see why the author had taken such pains to detail so many things – they formed a big picture if you like – but at the end of LINDA I just felt tired and a little cross that I’d spent so much time reading about giant strawberries and laundry lists and childhood bicycles and every beer that the main investigator drank over the period of the investigation.
Persson is a criminologist in real life and is clearly very knowledgeable about the procedural aspects of the kind of work that would be carried out in a case like this which gives the tale an undeniable authenticity. It is also obvious that the author is using the medium of fiction to provide commentary on the justice system as he sees it and broader social issues in his country. In fact his work has been compared to that of ground-breaking writing duo Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, including in this excellent post at Mrs Peabody Investigates which compares LINDA to the couple’s first book ROSEANNA (although Mrs P tactfully doesn’t mention that ROSEANNA is a blissful 200 pages shorter). But, at least for me in this instance the author’s undoubtedly noble intentions got somewhat lost amidst all that detail.
However my thoughts about this book are not all of the whingeing kind. I have to admire the creation of such a central character, if not the character himself. It can’t have been easy for Persson to spend so much time with such a thoroughly unlikable human being. Often in crime fiction the central protagonist has to deal with an unpleasant, incompetent superior who cannot be relied upon for support in any circumstances but here that person is the protagonist. Evert Bäckström is described as “short, fat and primitive” and depicted as a bigoted, misogynist, xenophobic cruel, corrupt, self-absorbed, incompetent, drunk. Even his purported affection for his goldfish is of only the shallowest, transitory nature. To make him – or the story in which he features – compelling Persson, has used black humour and surrounded Bäckström with people who manage to get their jobs done reasonably well despite the impediments his very existence puts in their way. For me this combination of dark humour and the depiction of a scenario I can relate to (i.e. a job getting done despite the incompetence of some) (of course I self-identify with Bäckström’s put-upon colleagues rather than the central figure) was a highlight of the book.. I am always particularly impressed when humour is able to be translated so kudos must also go to translator Neil Smith for my English version of the book.
And there is something impressive about the fact that the case at the heart of this book is a single murder of what I’d almost call the old-fashioned kind (in that there are no serial killers making suits if human skin or similar ‘go to’ plot devices in such common use these days) and that Persson manages to use it to highlight as many social issues as he does. Modern policing problems such as the mass collection of DNA and the peculiar treatment of female murder victims by police and the media get a good run as does the complex issue of the acceptance of immigrants into Swedish society.
At one point I prevaricated about bothering to finish LINDA, AS IN THE LINDA MURDER and now I’m glad I did but I do hesitate to recommend it. It took me a week and a half to finish (about triple my usual time spent with a book) and it did rather feel like I was taking medicine towards the end. But if loads of detail wrapped around a darkly funny and insightful tale sounds like your thing then don’t say I didn’t warn you.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
I’ve only read one book from this author previously but ANOTHER TIME, ANOTHER LIFE did make my favourites list last year (in the books that make me go hmmmmmm category) so I won’t be giving up on this author – just taking a breather
Translator Neil Smith
Publisher Trans World Publishing 
Length 488 pages
Book Series a sort of standalone
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