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Åke Edwardson, Den sista vintern (The Final Winter)

Norstedts,  2008. ISBN: 9789113017518

Reviewed by Irene Scobbie in SBR 2009:1

Erik Winter was first introduced to crime fiction aficionados in Dans med en ängel in 1997. He now makes his tenth, and apparently final appearance. The title spells it out, and in interviews Edwardson has said that he wants to try a different genre. Dans med en ängel and some of the following works often embraced vice and violence, but here the author turns away from drugs and sex and deals with a pathological desire for revenge. The plot is intriguing from the outset: Martin Barkner reports to the police that he has woken up to find his partner Madeleine lying next to him with a pillow over her head. She has been suffocated.There are no signs of an intruder or of the victim having tried to defend herself, and so the police believe that Barkner is the perpetrator. Shortly afterwards there is an almost exact replica of the crime, when Erik Lentner calls in the police – he too has found his partner lying beside him suffocated.The forensic team search both flats in vain for evidence of a third party, and despite the coincidence, the investigating officers remain convinced of Barkner’s and Lentner’s guilt. However, Gerda Hoffner, the first police officer on both crime scenes, notices small puzzling discrepancies. She is a new recruit and afraid of sounding silly, but in the end persuades Winter that the two men could possibly be innocent. Meanwhile Winter and his wife Angela are dismayed by a corpse floating towards their private beach - Winter has another murder on his hands, one which, it later emerges, may be connected with the previous two. Edwardson is very good at police procedure, and he guides us through painstaking forensic evidence, cross examinations and team conferences.The dialogue is well done, and the way Winter and his friend Ringmar bounce ideas off each other is often amusing. The perpetrator seems to taunt Winter, even sending him a DVD of what purports to be the setting of his next murder. Suspense mounts steadily – will Gerda Hoffner be saved? Is Winter in mortal danger? A reviewer is honour bound to reveal no more. Edwardson sometimes relies too much on coincidence, but there is no doubt that he is an excellent storyteller. As in his earlier works Edwardson paints a graphic picture of Gothenburg, in this novel a city celebrating Christmas and New Year. The main characters also have connections with the Costa del Sol, and here too the setting is convincingly drawn. Edwardson is not a political author, but he does directly or indirectly comment on the social scene. However egalitarian Swedish society may be, the district where the deaths have occurred is definitely upper class, and Winter’s colleagues think he will be better able to understand the people involved, since he belongs to that class.There is also an implied criticism of the affluent Swedes who have settled in a Swedish enclave on the Costa del Sol and lead unproductive lives. His presentation, on the other hand, of an alcoholic whose addiction has led to near destitution but who loves his son and genuinely tries to overcome his affliction, is much more sympathetic. Other small incidental details will strike a chord in Western society – police stations have been closed, and the sight of two uniformed policemen patrolling on foot in the centre of Gothenburg causes heads to turn and the public to feel safer. Although some police colleagues from previous novels are introduced there is less space devoted to them than before. The new recruit, Gerda Hoffner, on the other hand, becomes a major player. Her parents live in the former East Germany, and Gerda is a sensitive, isolated figure with good observational skills. It is Winter, however, who is centre stage. In Nästan död man (2007) he seemed to be worldweary, plagued by headaches, a burnt-out case ready to leave the force. Here he no longer suffers from migraines, his natural detecting instincts are intact and, as he confesses,‘he couldn’t do anything but this work. He wouldn’t want to do anything else. It was his life’ (p.382). And yet a feeling of inevitability seems to pervade this last case, and Edwardson has made it difficult for Winter to reappear in the future. Ian Rankin has jettisoned Rebus and now we are to lose Winter. Conan Doyle had to resurrect Holmes.With luck the same may happen here. Winter is at the height of his detective skills, and Gerda Hoffner would make a rewarding addition to his team.Together with Mankell and Nesser, Edwardson represents the best in modern Swedish crime fiction. His departure would be a great loss.

Also by Åke Edwardson

Other reviews by Irene Scobbie

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