Fresh Meat: The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt

The Dead of Summer by Mari JungstedtThe Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt is the latest book in the Anders Knutas series of Swedish police procedural mysteries to be released in the United States (available May 15, 2012).

Crime fiction generally is not the best place to look for a vacation spot. If Hannibal and Clarice had transported their bloody tango to the sands of some tropical beach, readers probably wouldn’t be queuing up to follow suit. So why is it that, despite the body count, I’d gladly take a holiday on Gotland, the Swedish island where Mari Jungstedt sets her whodunits?

Let’s start with the pros: it’s removed from the hustle and bustle of Stockholm and there are plentiful bars and restaurants all apparently within bicycling distance (this is Sweden, after all). Since Jungstedt sets the story in late summer, the weather is cooperative for long beach walks and lots of swimming. Even Detective Karin Jacobsson takes a dip at one point. That’s just what you do in July in Gotland. Even when you have a double murder to solve.

Which leads me to the cons. It can’t be ignored that in Jungstedt’s Gotland, there are corpses. Bullet-ridden corpses. This is where the whole it’s-an-island-and-we-can’t-escape notion begins to sound less appealing. Since the first victim is shot point blank in the forehead and then seven more times in the stomach during his morning run along the beach, taking in the lovely scenery Gotland has to offer might not be in your best interest after all. Maybe there’s a shop in Stockholm you can visit that sells summer-weight Kevlar. Stock up before you get on the ferry. Speaking of the ferry, you better hope you don’t miss the last one of the day. Then you’re really stuck.

Despite all this, I’m still drawn to the island and its Visby-based police force. It could be a sign that I’ve been reading too many Scandinavian crime novels when I say that it’s nice to read something that’s set outside of a major city. Stockholm and Oslo can feel as tired as New York and Los Angeles. In Visby, there’s Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas—who hates to be called “Knutie” but I rather like it—and his newly appointed second in command, Detective Karin Jacobsson. Jungstedt avoids most of the usual clichés about a male superior officer and his female underling: there’s no overt unrequited love, just respect built up over years of working together. This murder case, the body on the beach that leaves few leads and fewer suspects, is Jacobsson’s first as Knutas’s deputy.

Of course, because he’s a workaholic—and Jungstedt’s series character—Knutas can’t stay away and comes galloping back from his Danish holiday only a day after the body hit the sand. I immediately sided with Jacobsson in the inevitable dispute, a seeming hybrid between a domestic spat and a tug-of-war between parent and teenager: do you not trust me enough to do this on my own? He does trust her, he promises, but points out that this is her first homicide to tackle solo. I wanted to point out that everyone has to have a first time sometime. More to the point, he admits that he was incapable of being so far away from the action, especially on such an intriguing case. This leads to that age-old discussion on retirement:

“Are you ever going to be able to give this job up?”

“Yes, sure, of course I’ll be able to one day. You know I will. It just might take some time.”

“I dread the day you retire. You’ll be calling up headquarters every other day and trying to meddle.”

“Hey, slow down a bit. I’m not even fifty-three.”

“Sorry,” she said with a grin. “It’s actually great to have you back. If only you’ll let me handle some of the work on my own.”

“Of course I will.”

But the most telling part of the conversation comes later, after Jacobsson and Knutas have discussed the particulars of the case:

Before she left the room, she put her hand on Knutas’s shoulder and said in a low voice, “I really am glad you’re back, Anders. At the same time, it makes me furious.”

I couldn’t agree more. As much as I didn’t want Knutas moping around in Denmark, driving his wife crazy during what was meant to be a relaxing vacation, I also didn’t want him back in Visby, taking over what should have been Jacobsson’s case. On the other hand, Team KnutSon’s working dynamic is excellent. And if I’m going to be planning my trip to Gotland—Google Maps helpfully informed that there is no route available from the States to Visby via car—I want Jacobsson and Knutas around to keep the murderers at bay.

Jordan Foster grew up in a mystery bookstore in Portland, Oregon. She has a MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia University, which she’s slowly paying off by writing about crime fiction for Publishers Weekly and Bookish. She’s back in Portland, where it’s nice and rainy and there are endless places to stash bodies. She tweets @jordanfoster13.

Read all of Jordan Foster’s posts for Criminal Element.

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