Midwinter Sacrifice, by Mons Kallentoft

by Peter

Midwinter Sacrifice, Mons KallentoftMidwinter Sacrifice is the first book in a new series of Swedish crime fiction. This series, written by Mons Kallentoft, introduces a unique and very interesting Swedish detective: Malin Fors of the Linköping police.

Malin Fors is an intriguing and complex heroine – she is tough, has had serious problems in her marriage and is now divorced. She also has a problematic relationship with her daughter, and tends to drink too much. She is mostly unbalanced and on the edge. I tend to think of her as a blend: one part Irene Huss, one part Inspector Winter and one part Harry Hole. She is talented, ambitious, tough, smart and unpredictable. She listens and ponders:

‘An investigation consists of a mass of voices, the sort you can hear, and the sort you can’t. You have to listen to the soundless voices, Malin. That’s where the truth is hidden.’

In Midwinter Sacrifice, a man is found hanging in a tree in the middle of the winter in Sweden. He is very beaten up and was most likely murdered, possibly in a ritual of some kind. We follow Malin Fors as she doggedly investigates this difficult case, first seeking to determine the identity of the deceased. Then the investigation progresses into the life of the murdered man – including his very strange and tangled relationships. He was, it seems, a bit of a loner and a man harassed by many and liked by few.

The investigation is thorough and very interesting to read. Midwinter Sacrifice in some ways may be viewed as opening up and shining a light on the inner workings of a seemingly peaceful social democratic and egalitarian Swedish small town; it shows the hidden life under the picturesque surface. Gradually the investigation reveals that the dead man was much damaged and that he played a role in an earlier, very tragic event. We also learn more about a group of strange, quite destitute people living outside the city.

The author uses supernatural-like elements to great effect in this book. I usually don’t like “whispering voices” or similar devices in crime fiction books, but this, I suppose, is a matter of taste. Mons Kallentoft writes these sequences in a different prose, and creates effects that are peculiar, esoteric, and almost dreamlike.

I liked the book – it is an intriguing exploration of evil; this is not a new theme in crime fiction exactly, but Kallentoft manages to penetrate deep enough into its origins and into some pretty cold hearts to make the plot plausible. The investigation is very interesting and the ending quite satisfactory and very suspenseful.
Moreover, Kallentoft is an outstanding writer, and the translation is excellent too. Also, the character descriptions are very good, and his descriptions of the settings and the wintery Swedish landscape very evocative. So, as you understand, I enjoyed Midwinter Sacrifice and I also very much enjoyed reading about Malin Fors. She is an interesting character that I look forward to meeting again!

Reviews of Midwinter Sacrifice:

“Mons Kallentoft has realized that the language in a mystery story does not have to be one-dimensional and totally focused on suspense. His first novel about Linköping police officer Malin Fors is definitely one of this spring’s highlights.” — Svenska Dagbladet

“The action takes place in Linköping, a town surrounded by snow-covered plains that could have come from the Coen Brothers movie, Fargo, although with different overtones. (…). Kallentoft shifts the perspective ever so slightly, to a different language, a different mood. Only just enough so that one feels lost. It’s a new territory, that Linköping where Malin Fors lives.” —
Lotta Olsson, Dagens Nyheter

“More very impressive input from another Scandinavian writer with something refreshingly different to say and with a different way of saying it . . . the background of Sweden in the grip of a cruel and punishing winter is brought vividly to the page. His illustration of the complex character of his heroine is also impressive . . . An impressive book.” —Tangled Web

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