Killer’s Art by Mari Jungstedt is the latest U.S. release in the Swedish crime series featuring police inspector Anders Knutas and TV journalist Johan Berg (available February 25, 2013).
On a cold Sunday morning, a man is found hanged on the old city wall that surrounds Visby, the capital of Gotland, an island off Sweden’s east coast. The victim is well-known art gallery owner, Egon Wallin and the crime sends a chill throughout the area. Days later, a famous painting is stolen in Stockholm and disturbing links to Wallin’s murder start to surface, bringing police inspector Anders Knutas and TV journalist Johan Berg into the picture—working against time, and sometimes against each other, to find the killer.
You can understand why Mari Jungstedt’s novels are adapted for Swedish TV. With chapters that typically span three pages at most, they read like a teleplay delivering just the right amount of information scene by scene. I point this out because some readers enjoy this style and others sincerely do not, so it’s worth noting. But I’ll add that in this case the pacing serves the story well, jumping from thought to thought the way a person’s mind naturally does.
One moment Knutas is focusing on a suspect, the next he’s wondering why his second-in-command Karin Jacobsson has such an affinity for the gluttonous Inspector Kihlgård, and the next he’s peeved that Johan Berg has more information about the case than a journalist should.
One moment Johan Berg is coaxing an unsuspecting source into revealing information, the next he’s behaving like a teenager in love and contemplating a lifelong commitment to his partner Emma, and the next he’s plotting a career move.
And then there’s the killer. We see the world through his eyes as well:
The backpack with all the equipment was ready. One last time he checked to see that he had everything he needed. Then he quickly zipped it shut and sat down in front of the mirror. With practiced movements he applied the make-up, inserted the contact lenses, and glued the wig in place. He had tried out this disguise many times before to ensure it would be perfect. When he was done he paused to study the transformation for a moment.
The next time he looked in the mirror, he would be seeing the face of a murderer. He wondered if it would be obvious.
The novel begins with the murder of Egon Wallin, the owner of an art gallery and by all accounts a stand-up guy in the community. His murder shocks everyone. Even more of a shock is the way his body is found—hanging from a gate in the medieval stone wall that circles the city. Of course, it doesn’t take us long to learn that Egon Wallin wasn’t at all what he appeared to be. In fact, we know about his shenanigans long before the police do. Still, his secret plans weren’t enough to lead to murder, were they? It’s a question that needs an answer.
Bit by bit, with the help of Knutas’s investigation and Berg’s pursuit of a hot story, we scratch away the layers of a mystery with a well-hidden, complex, and largely plausible motive.
Knutas and Berg are presented as known quantities and their prior connections are alluded to but not fully explained. Chronologically, this is the fourth book in the series. (The fifth, The Dead of Summer, was released in the U.S. last year. Go figure.) For true character development you’ll probably have to start the series from the beginning with Unseen, Unspoken, and The Inner Circle in that order. The action in Killer’s Art picks up a few months after The Inner Circle.
The art world setting of Killer’s Art is interesting, and the fact that Jungstedt uses real museums and artwork in the book lends it authenticity. “The Dying Dandy” by Nils Dardel, which becomes the object of an audacious museum heist, is a real early-20th century painting that, until 2012, was famous for commanding the highest-ever price at auction in Sweden. Swedes would recognize it, might know its complex history, and would certainly understand why it is such an object of desire.
Then there are the circumstances of the heist, which Karin Jacobsson investigates with the help of Inspector Fogestam, a colleague from Stockholm:
“We suspect that the perpetrator got away across the ice,” said Fogestam. … We think he made his getaway on long-distance skates.”
“An art thief who comes in the middle of the night to steal a famous painting from a museum, and then takes off wearing long-distance skates. It sounds like pure James Bond.”
Or pure Swedish crime. And if you’re a fan, Killer’s Art will not disappoint you.
Leslie Gilbert Elman is the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.
Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.