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Åke Edwardson, Segel av sten (Sails of Stone)

Norstedts,  2002. ISBN: 911301093X

Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2003:1


Although born in Småland Åke Edwardson has made Gothenburg his home, and usually sets his novels there. He also seems to be increasingly interested in Britain. Dans med en ängel, (Dance with an Angel) for instance, moves between Gothenburg and Croydon, while here he has chosen Scotland, in particular the north-east fishing harbours. He depicts both settings with convincing authority. The Osvalds are a traditional fishing family from Donsö, a small island off Gothenburg. John Osvald and another two crew members had gone out on their trawler, the Marino, off the north-east coast of Scotland in heavily mined waters in 1941, and had sunk without trace. Since then others connected with the Marino have either died or become senile, and the matter seems closed. Axel, John’s son, has received a note, however, saying that the John Oswald affair is not what it seems, and he has gone to Scotland to investigate his father’s mysterious death. Axel disappears, and D.C.I. Erik Winter is asked by an old flame, Johanna Osvald, to find her father Axel. Reluctantly at first, Winter looks into the case, joined by D.I. Steve McDonald, based in Croydon but originally from north-east Scotland. Their search takes them to Inverness, Aberdeen, Peterhead, Fraserburgh, Buckie, Cullan, and Elgin, and they grow certain that a crime was committed all those years ago. Axel is then found naked by a lake in the hills, having died of hypothermia. We follow a well-paced story of wartime smuggling and family relationships, leading up to a final shooting. As usual with Edwardson, an unrelated crime is being investigated simultaneously, starting with wife-battering and progressing through organized burglary and death. This often takes us to the meaner, more claustrophobic parts of Gothenburg city, while the Osvald theme opens out on to the world of archipelagos and fresh North Sea winds. Both cases come to a climax at the same time, and Edwardson skilfully increases the tension by alternating his account, making us await developments in both settings. Several characters from earlier novels are further developed convincingly. The sympathetic Winter is still a gourmet, impressing the Scots with his ‘nose’ for whisky, but his sartorial habits are no longer mentioned, perhaps because he is in Inverness, not London, or perhaps being now a husband and father he has other priorities. (Winter admirers may be pleased to know that his wife Angela announces a second pregnancy at the end of the novel). Winter’s taste in music is also progressing – or deteriorating, depending on one’s point of view; indeed neither he, his colleagues nor any police car seems able to function without first selecting a CD, and the text is punctuated with performances by Coltrane, Led Zep, Patsy Chine, et al. Aneta Djanali, the coloured detective born in Gothenburg, is treated sympathetically as she struggles with her identity. Fredrik Halders has mellowed, still a hotheaded racist but proving to be a good father to his motherless children, and risking his life for his coloured colleague, whom he hopes to marry. The language is liberally supplied with English phrases and often whole sentences. This device succeeds in capturing the atmosphere when Winter converses with Scots, but it creeps into the Gothenburg scenes too. Swedish purists may object, but it should at least make the English translator’s task easier!

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