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THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE
by Hjorth & Rosenfeldt and Marlaine Delargy, trans.
Arrow Books, September 2017
448 pages
$16.99 CAD
ISBN: 178475241X


Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Readers of crime fiction in English who also enjoy television crime dramas may be more familiar with the work of Michael Hjorth & Hans Rosenfeldt on screen - the former having written several episodes of the Swedish series based on Henning Mankell's Wallander and the latter responsible for The Bridge,/I> and Marcella, both still streaming on Netflix. But the two also collaborate on a series of police procedurals, whose central character, Sebastian Bergman, is a psychologist and profiler.

For those who prefer reading a series in order and from the beginning, this series presents the usual difficulties for translated work. First, the question of titles. The first in the series was once called simply Sebastian Bergman, then DARK SECRETS, which is closer to its original title. Two further English translations in the series appeared a few years later, with titles that seem to want to echo Stieg Larsson's THE GIRL WHO....: THE MAN WHO WATCHED WOMEN and THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE. Neither of these reflect the original titles. Finally, a fourth English translation will be released shortly - THE SILENT GIRL, which is a direct translation of the original.

If the allusion to Larsson was intended, it was misdirected. The Bergman series has little in common with THE GIRL WHO...save for a recognition of a larger political context that either inspired the crimes or caused them. THE MAN WHO WASN'T THERE is a fairly straight-forward police procedural in which the Riksmord, the National Police Homicide Unit, has been called in to investigate the presence of six bodies interred on the side of a Swedish mountain some years previously. Four adults and two children. Sebastian is happy to get out of town for a bit as he is having trouble with his current girl friend and can use the break.

Events do not unfold at a break-neck pace. First, there are two stories, initially apparently unrelated, unfolding at the same time. The first involves the identification of the people buried in the mountain grave; the second deals with the quest on the part of an immigrant Muslim family in the Stockholm suburb of Rinkeby to find out what had happened to the man of the house who had unaccountably disappeared several years earlier. But also slowing the forward pace is the desire of the authors to acquaint their readers with the interior motivation of every character, no matter how minor. In short, the point of view in use here could be called the eye of God, as no thought, no desire, is withheld from the reader.

And some of those musings make for uncomfortable reading, especially when it comes to Sebastian himself. In some ways, he conforms to that fictional cliché of the psychologist - one who is seriously in need of his own services. Bergman is a serial womanizer, a candidate for the Harvey Weinstein school of gender relations, and no amount of wry sympathy on the part of the authors can make that comfortable reading. He is also bound up in an impossible situation. One of the members of the murder squad, Vanja Lithner, is actually his daughter from a earlier liaison, a fact of which she is wholly unaware. The man she thinks of as her father has been charged with corruption on evidence that came to light as a result of Bergman's carelessness. And Sebastian is about to go to bed with yet another woman, one loved by still another member of the Squad.

Happily, as the book nears its conclusion, the pace picks up considerably as the two main plots come together and a resolution is achieved. But the general mess of human relations in the murder squad does lead one to wonder how the police ever managed to free themselves from their personal involvements to get it done.

All this said, those who, like myself, have a fondness for Scandi crime will certainly want to become acquainted with Bergman and the Riksmord, even if we might wish that the authors could bring it all home in fewer than 448 closely set pages.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, October 2017

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)


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