Coldcase murders and a nameless doom


Coldcase murders and a nameless doom

DEBORAH STEINMAIR allayed the winter chill with white-hot psychological thrillers.


BESIDES poetry and nonfiction, last week I read two excellent psychological thrillers fresh off the press. They were great for dispelling the winter cold.

There are certain masters of the genre whose books I always snap up. And few writers manage Scandinavian noir better than Swedish writer Camilla Läckberg.

This novel is set in the Swedish seaside town of Fjälbacka. An art photographer, Rolf Stenklo, is murdered with a staple gun in the gallery where he was hanging pictures for his retrospective exhibition of photographs he took of his friends when he was young. One photo disappeared with the killer. It was titled “Guilt". 

The friends were a talented, arty, bohemian group. One of them, Henning Bauer, is in the running for the Nobel Prize in Literature at the beginning of the novel. His wife, Elisabeth, is a reputable publisher and inherited a small island from her parents, on which they live.

Then the Bauers' son, Peter, and their two grandsons are murdered in their beds one night. There were only a handful of people on the island: Henning and Elisabeth; Peter, his wife Louise and their two sons; Vivian, the murdered Rolf's widow; Ole and Susanne, two other friends from their circle who have been together since they were young; and the Bauers' youngest son, Rikard, a loafer who is forever asking for money, and his girlfriend, Tilde.

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In separate chapters, another story unfolds, set in Stockholm in 1980. Lola is a trans woman who lives with her small daughter, P'tite. She is intensely interested in literature and works in a prestigious club. Here, she met a bohemian, wealthy group of friends who often hang out in her kitchen after closing time. Photos of her would have been part of Rolf's exhibition. She and her child were murdered in their apartment and the case was never resolved.

It looks as if Rolf was about to air the skeletons of the past and some people were uncomfortable with this. But why were Peter and his sons killed, and is there any connection with Rolf's murder? After the unsavoury murders in his immediate vicinity, the Nobel committee decide Henning is not a good candidate for the prize they were about to award him.

The characters are interesting. Everyone harbours secrets and keeps mum about past events. The circle of friends are not good, kind people. They are smart, privileged, arrogant and narcissistic and have always gotten away with murder. Maybe literally?

The characters with whom this reader's sympathy lies were murdered in 1980 — Lola and her daughter.

It's a catchy, fast-moving storyline, with revenge plans taking shape and baffling puzzles to solve. About one part of the denouement, I caught on near the end of the book. However, there are also enough red herrings to confuse you. I highly recommend it.

The Cuckoo by Camilla Läckberg was published by HarperCollins and costs R609 at Exclusive Books.

Another tour de force is John Connolly's new Charlie Parker novel. If you don't know him, Parker is a fascinating character: older, hardy, humane, and with psychic abilities. He is an ex-policeman who is now a private detective. Lawyer Moxie Castin, also a colourful character, appoints him to investigate a murder. Moxie is defending the accused, a mother whose son disappeared from the house in the night and was never seen again. The window was open. Colleen Clarke is also a complex character, withdrawn and distant: she had postnatal depression. A blanket from her home was found in her car, stained with (much of) her son's blood. After that, her husband, the whole country and the police are convinced she is guilty. Two ambitious politicians are eager to put her in jail. Like Moxie, Charlie Parker believes in her innocence.

What follows is riveting, gritty tension with disgusting villains. Sabine Drew is a psychic who helps the police find lost children. She often sees dead children and wishes she didn't. She hears the boy's cries in her head. She recognises Parker as a fellow clairvoyant and tells him:

I heard that you died on the operating table after you were shot … I can believe it now. When you crossed back, you left part of yourself behind.

There are quite a few ghosts in the book, and an unnamed, supernatural mischief brewing.

Connolly has a captivating way of writing. A critic refers on the back cover to his “socko" style. I looked it up: stunningly effective or successful. Indeed. The characters are witty and their conversations engaging. The reader, like the mother, assumes the child is already dead but it's a race against time to find his corpse, to prove the mother's innocence and foil the politicians.

Charlie is a philosopher with an interesting stream of consciousness. He ponders things like ambition:

All politicians are ambitious, and ambition is a hunger that’s never sated. It’s a cousin to desire, even addiction. We’re all prey to the former, whatever the variant, and whether it becomes a vice or a virtue depends on one’s principles. But politics, by its nature, requires compromise, and compromise and principles are like matter and antimatter.

Connolly is an award-winning Irish author of mystery novels and supernatural thrillers. This is his 23rd Charlie Parker novel. He lives in Dublin but the Parker novels are set in Maine in the US. I've read one or two but an item on my bucket list would be to stay on an island for a few weeks and read them all in the right order. Along with stacks of poetry collections.

The Instruments of Darkness by John Connolly was published by Hodder & Stoughton and costs R440 at Exclusive Books.

What are we listening to?

Disturbed's version of The Sound of Silence:

♦ VWB ♦

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