Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2010. ISBN: 9789100124823
Reviewed by Dominic Hinde in SBR 2011:1
Barring any Sherlock-Holmes style revival, this would appear to be the final outing for Lars Martin Johansson, the fictional ex-head of the National Crime Squad, and perhaps even the conclusion of Leif GW Persson’s career as a prolific and very popular crime writer. The bed-bound Johansson, hospitalised after a stroke presumably due to years of hard living, is tasked with solving a 25-year-old cold case involving the brutal rape and murder of a little girl, Yasmine Ermegan. As the investigation progresses, Johansson’s health deteriorates, and the suspense surrounding his fate generates as much tension as search for the identity of the girl’s killer. First from his hospital bed and later from his sofa, Johansson enlists the help of a cast of characters from Persson’s previous books. Persson’s own deep knowledge of the Swedish legal system and police procedure is evident at every turn, as his fictional representative, Johansson conducts an entirely personal mission, which unmasks a culture of child abuse, intrigue and shady business dealings in Thailand. Johansson knows that a 1950s opera star is involved but cannot work out how. All along, his sharp mind rails against the incompetence of the rest of the police force in a manner reminiscent of the great Sherlock. What sets this book apart from so much of current Scandinavian crime fiction, including the Millennium trilogy, is the modesty of its aims. There is no conspiracy to scandalise the Swedish government or shake society to its foundations and the sleuthing involved is decidedly low-tech. One of the central plot lines depends on a recent change in Swedish law regarding unsolved crimes which took place in 2010, a development of which Persson – and Johansson – are both openly extremely critical, because killers caught after its enactment cannot be brought to justice. The pursuit of justice forms the central theme of Den döende detektiven: Persson prefaces chapters with biblical passages on justice and revenge, and his protagonist is driven, not by regard for the letter of the law, but by his personal convictions as well as his desire to see Yasmine’s killer punished for the crimes he has committed. Johansson’s sidekick, a young Russian immigrant called Max, who himself experienced being abused as a child in the orphanages of the Soviet Union, hates paedophiles and child abusers. He wants them to be punished for their crimes. Yasmine’s father, who is an Iranian immigrant and a millionaire now resident in America, has after the death of his daughter begun to pursue paedophiles as ruthlessly, both through both the legal system and by more violent means. The portrayal of the killer is chilling. Little attempt is made to create any understanding of what drives him to commit his crimes. The condemnation of him is unrelenting and this overwhelming conviction masks the lack of complexity in the plot. Instead, much time is devoted to Lars Johansson’s soul-searching and evaluating of his life, culminating in a final journey back to northern Sweden and his family home, a hunting expedition and the conclusion of his own personal narrative. The book is not exciting or action-packed in the conventional sense, but for anyone familiar with Johansson’s character it is an interesting development. His deteriorating condition cleverly shifts the focus from the crime to the detective sitting on his sofa. There are no police chases, mystery assassins or femmes fatales, merely an exhausted and browbeaten retiree looking to bring justice to a girl failed by the system.