Thursday, July 12, 2012

Scandinavian Crime Fiction: UNWANTED by Kristina Ohlsson

What happens when a counterterrorism officer with a political science background in Stockholm turns her hand to crime fiction? For Kristina Ohlsson, the move was literally life-changing, as her three-book series of investigations featuring analyst Fredrika Bergman garnered awards and praise in Europe.

Thanks to Atria (a Simon & Schuster publishing house), Ohlsson's books are finally arriving in the United States. The first one, UNWANTED, was released earlier this year, and it's a winner -- you can pick up an occasional awkwardness or loose thread that reveals this is a debut (with an impressively smooth translation by -- believe it or not -- Sarah Death), but the blend of crime-solving and investigative team friction is deft, the twists of the plot are rapid and intriguing, and the characters are unforgettable. That goes especially for Fredrika Bergman herself, the new civilian on a crack police team where each of the officers has reason to devalue the analyst's comments and suggestions.

But Bergman, unskilled in shifting the balance of power within the team meetings, independently investigates a strand that the team is ignoring: the young woman with a sick dog who seems to have lured a mother away from her child during a routine train stop, so that a psychopath can seize the small girl. It's clear she didn't wander off on her own; her shoes are still sitting next to her bench on the train.

Bergman's initiative wins reluctant respect from the other investigators. It's not enough to make her feel at home with a group of badge-toting experts who still think she's mostly in the wrong field. She doesn't intend to stay with this job placement anyway, so she's wasting no time on alliances, but following her own conclusions instead. Her co-worker Peder hopes she'll fail:
Peder cursed the fact that he'd been passed over in favor of Fredrika yet again ... Even so. Hadn't Alex sounded confident that the case of the missing Lilian would soon be solved? ... So the Lilian case was not to be considered particularly major or important. Seen in that light, it was more understandable that Fredrika was going with Alex to interview Sara at home. It was actually a good thing that she and not Peder had been asked to go, because she was the one who needed to hone her skills, not him.
I could disagree with Ohlsson's decision to give large chunks of narrative from the points of view of perpetrators, but it clearly raises the tension in UNWANTED. And by the time Bergman and her boss, Inspector Alex Recht, realize what lies beneath the crimes, the pace of the narrative is intense enough to interfere with the ordinary life of a reader.

Luckily, those of us who read crime fiction regularly don't get upset when a book begins to cut into our sleep time (or even a bit of work time) -- instead, we celebrate, right? I'm celebrating finding Kristina Ohlsson's work.

The next in the series comes out in the US in March 2013. Hurrah for good translations of Scandinavian thrillers! There are at least five more Olsson books already -- see the author's page within her agency's website. We've got more good books coming our way.

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