Ordfront, 2004. ISBN: 9170370338
Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2005:1
English Translation: The Cruel Stars of the Night, translated by Ebba Segerberg. St Martin's Press, 2008. ISBN 9780312366681.
This is Kjell Eriksson’s sixth detective story to feature Detective Inspector Ann Lindell and her Uppsala colleagues, and as with the previous novels it is a combination of police procedural and psychological study. Dr. Hindersten, an egocentric and embittered academic, is reported missing by his 35-year-old daughter Laura. Shortly afterwards Petrus Blomgren, Jan-Elis Andersson and Carl-Henrik Palmblad, three elderly men living alone in isolated hamlets, are all found battered to death. The police don’t believe in coincidence, but struggle to find any common theme. Blomgren once spent a holiday in Mallorca but otherwise never left home. He was popular, had little money and most of what he had he bequeathed to charity. Andersson was more affluent, but his beneficiaries, a niece and her husband, live in Umeå and his son-in-law is confined to a wheelchair. Palmgren owns an outstanding hunter, but financially his son-in-law had helped him out, not the reverse. The investigating team are not wholly convinced when a chess enthusiast discerns an ingenious plot. Blomgren and Andersson were peasants and Palmgren a horseman. This connects with a Spanish chess ploy where a player sacrificed two pawns and a knight in order to take his opponent’s queen. (A translator will have fun dealing with this. The Swedish for pawn is bonde, i.e. peasant, and the knight is a riddare.) Queen Silvia is due to attend a ceremony in Uppsala, and she would seem to be in danger. In the end it is Ann Lindell who finds a photograph, which, she knows intuitively, will help unravel the mystery. Following up the lead she forgets to keep her colleagues informed of her whereabouts and in an exciting finish puts her life at risk. The novel is good on characterization. One of the main figures, Laura Hindersten, is a study in mind disorder. When she becomes infatuated by a henpecked married man the result is both awful and (intentionally?) funny as the poor man is physically attacked by his wife when he tells her he is leaving, and then by Laura when he tells her he has changed his mind. The police too are well portrayed. We are spared the picture of the cynical, hard-boiled cop and are presented with a group of mostly sympathetic people who care for the society they are defending. As with his other novels, and indeed with the best of modern Swedish detective fiction, Eriksson reflects aspects of modern Swedish society. Ann Lindell, for instance, a single mother, has difficulty juggling with her job and caring for her young son. The sadness of a small, dying community, meanwhile, is caught poignantly in the death of Petrus Blomgren. His old neighbour Dorotea Svahn, left almost alone in their isolated hamlet, is reminiscent of the elderly characters in Stig Claesson’s Vem älskar Yngve Frej (translated as Ancient Monuments).