Reviewed by James Walker in SBR 2018:2
Review Section: Crime and Horror
Den fjärde pakten (The Fourth Pact) is the fourth free-standing novel in a series featuring literary researcher Helena Waller. Set on a university campus in the west of Sweden, it features a collegiate body comprising the deans of the various faculties, who are a force to be reckoned with. Enter Emma Lundgren, Västgöta University’s rector, who has been absent on maternity leave after the birth of her twins. She has just returned to her post when a student, seemingly protesting against Donald Trump, ties a banner atop a clock tower on the campus. Apparently asleep or unconscious, on coming to he is seen to lose his balance and topple from the tower.
The dead student is Morgan Svensson, a politics undergraduate with no apparent political affiliations, either clandestine or public. Is his death suicide, or was it murder? How did he get up the tower? Did he have help? Was he forced up?
Beyond this death, the first half of Den fjärde pakten deals with the relationships between the various deans and academic staff, particularly as regards a donation from a rich patron, Renate Flodin, or to use her English title, Lady Boyle. A Swede who divides her time between her estate in England and a flat in Nice, she is giving the university a large donation to establish a new centre for the study of antiquities.
The university’s deans have little faith in the returning rector Emma Lundgren and plot to get rid of her. Emma becomes paranoid about her position, not least in relation to the donor. She disagrees with her about the nature of the donation, particularly as regards the institution’s academic freedom vis-à-vis the new centre.
Aside from the death of Morgan Svensson, the first half of the novel seems to be more a sociological study of the backbiting and rivalry of academics in a university setting than a whodunnit. Kristina Appelqvist takes her time in building the characters’ profiles and interactions, but in so doing slows the pace of the plot.
However, towards the middle of the book, once Emma has been sacked as rector and Frida Åberg, a nosy, dogged local journalist, takes up the story, the plot thickens once more, and we are back in the realms of the whodunnit. Add to this a misguided visit to Nice by the hapless new rector and his team of infighting deans, and an attempted murder using a most bizarre murder weapon, and the novel gathers pace again, redeeming itself as a murder mystery.
Kristina Appelqvist has been described as the queen of a type of whodunnit in which the various pieces of the puzzle are carefully crafted and assembled as the novel progresses. In Den fjärde pakten she continues to demonstrate this admirably.