BOOK REVIEW: SHADOW by Karin Alvtegen
I don’t read many crime novels, but this novel was pressed upon me by a member of my Book Club, who insisted I read it. Which I dutifully did. Having done so, I’m yet again reminded why – on the whole – I try to avoid Scandinavian crime novels. They are irredeemably bleak and this one is no exception.
None of the central characters are happy – in fact, they are downright miserable, unhappy, desperate and/or drunk all of the time. Five of the main protagonists are writers of one sort or another – novelists, a playwright and a poet. Success and fame has not brought them the fullfilment and happiness you might reasonably expect. If I were hunting for a book which acts as a dreadful warning to wannabe writers, this is the book I would shove into their hands in the certain knowledge that it would prevent them from even contemplating writing as a career, let alone putting fingers to keyboard!
Let me add that one of the secondary characters is also a writer, and he commits suicide in an attempt to publicise his forthcoming first novel! See what I mean about undiluted angst, snot and trane? I don’t expect a crime novel to be filled with sunshine and light – how can they be, given the subject matter? But, hey! enough is enough. And this novel lays it on by the shovelful.
As the book progresses, the tale grows darker and darker. About one-third of the way through there was no apparent crime, but by the end there are plenty, in every direction. At the outset I was puzzled by the lack of bodies (or bank heists and the like) and there was no detective or process of solving whodunit; the novel does not follow this formulaic path. The crimes and the truth – murky and convoluted – are slowly revealed as we trudge onwards and downwards.
Karin Alvtegen is a well-know Swedish crime writer, her work has been translated into 27 languages, and she has written three other novels. Shadow was shortlisted for the CWA International Dagger 2009. I have to say I won’t be reading another of her novels. Too black and bleak for me.
- A footnote: Lest you think I am anti-crime novels, I’m not. I thoroughly enjoyed all Deon Meyer’s South African crime novels; ditto all Carl Hiaasen’s romps through the crimes, pecadilloes and characters of the Florida Keys; and I gobbled up every page of JK Rowling/Robert Galbraith’s two Cormorant Strike novels. I’m eagerly awaiting #3.