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The first thing anyone who is considering reading this book needs to know is that it’s very long. The second thing is that it is very disturbing and takes the reader to some very dark places, covering subjects such as paedophilia, mutilation, and violence against women and children.

The story begins with young boys in Sweden being found mutilated and mummified. Detective Chief Inspector Jeanette Kihlberg is put in charge of the case and this leads her to seek out psychologist Sofia Zetterlund, in an attempt to find out who might be committing such crimes. It is impossible to say more without giving away some huge spoilers, so I will leave the premise there.

As for my own thoughts on the book, they are somewhat mixed. It started off extremely well (a note about the translation by Neil Smith – this was excellent; I often find translations clunky and off-putting, but this one was certainly very well done). The first couple of hundred of pages were gripping and kept me reading with great interest. However, after about a third of the way in, it started to get too long and too convoluted. The storyline jumps forward and backward, and there is a seemingly endless stream of characters, at least one of whom is a very unreliable narrator. It was sometimes hard to keep who was who clear in my mind and the only character I really felt on firm footing with was Jeanette herself, and her colleague Jens Hurtig. Jens was actually my favourite character throughout the whole story and the only one to whom I felt any sympathy.

Towards the end of the book I found myself just wanting to get finished with it. The dark subject matter was dragging me down and the over complicated plot line was tiresome. I think there was a lot that was really well done about this book, but some editing to rein it in would have been beneficial.

Other reviews have been mixed, so if Scandi-noir is your thing, you might enjoy it. However, for me personally, I think I’ll give this genre a  miss from now on.

 

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On his 100th birthday, Allan Karlsson decides to escape from the old people’s home in Sweden where he lives, and climbs out of the window.  When the disappearance is discovered, a huge search is launched, with everybody wondering what has happened to the centenarian.  The truth is stranger than they could possibly imagine.

As Allan gets involved with, amongst others, a lifelong petty crook, a foul mouthed woman, and an elephant(!), he finds himself accidentally becoming rich, and evading gangsters; he takes all this in his stride – as, it turns out, he has been doing his whole life.

The chapters in this book alternate between 2005, when Allan makes the aforementioned bid for freedom, and his life prior to ending up in the old people’s home.  And what a life it’s been!  It turns out that Allan has met several world leaders (including Stalin, Chairman Mao, Churchill, and three American Presidents), and has also had a huge influence on world events.  Throughout it all, he has spoken his mind, kept his temper, and enjoyed a glass or two of Vodka whenever he can.

I wasn’t sure about this book at first.  The premise is pretty ridiculous, and there was also a lot of repetitive phrases used throughout, which did grate a bit at times.  However, it does have a certain kind of charm which won me over, at least enough to keep me listening, (I had the audiobook), because I did want to know what happened.

Allan was in turn frustrating and endearing.  In the end, I had to admire his attitude to life; he was pragmatic, but also able to use his brain to get him out of a sticky situation – a skill which came in handy on more than one occasion.  His companions weren’t as well depicted, but then, it’s not really their story.

The historical parts were interesting – although Allan’s part in events were entirely fictitious, the situations described, such as the Cold War, and Chinese Communist Revolution, were very real, and I think this book would be entertaining for 20th century history buffs.

Overall, I enjoyed the story – maybe not enough to read another book by the same author, but enough to recommend it to fans of quirky comedy.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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