I picked up Unspoken, by Mari Jungstedt, at Mockingbird Used Books. This Swedish murder mystery is a later book in a series, something I didn’t realize when I chose it. The book was ably translated by Tiina Nunally.
The story follows the brutal murder of an alcoholic photographer and the disappearance of a depressed and isolated fourteen-year-old girl. Jungsdedt misdirects the reader very well, while still playing fair and providing the clues. Anders Knutas is the investigating officer, heading a team of several highly skilled professionals. Knutas is quite a good detective. He is a happily married man, but the occasional mis-steps as a husband are hilarious. My favorite is his reaction to his wife’s 47th birthday. He has obsessed throughout the book about what to get her, and finally has come up with the perfect gift. She has commented recently that she feels like she needs to lose weight, so he gets her a gym membership and a free visit to Weight Watchers.(Honestly, not even a joint gym membership so “we can work out together, honey!”) It’s possible that this scene could be funnier, but I really don’t see how.
The B-storyline, about Emma and Johann, who apparently met in a previous book and carried on a torrid affair, is tedious with occasional bouts of annoyance. Emma, who is cheating on her husband, is self-centered and inconsistent. This may be realistic for a woman torn between two lovers, but it wasn’t made interesting. Johan, who has a job that involves the crime investigation, fares slightly better, but it’s hard to care very much for him, either.
I struggled with the structure. Jungsdedt uses two timelines. The story of the girl Fanny is broken into subsections that are frequently headed with the words “Several Months Earlier.” It is hard to understand when her story takes place and how it fits in, until the very end. I think this could easily have been smoothed out.
The book is not set in mainland Sweden but on the Baltic island of Gotland, a different and somewhat exotic location. It’s worth reading Unspoken to see how a very different European culture deals with contemporary issues. I was startled when the police, confronted with a missing girl, display no urgency, choosing instead to focus on the dead guy. After all, one of the detectives says, they don’t know what’s happened to Fanny. She could just be a runaway. There is no serious concern about a runaway girl. It’s a sharp reminder of a different mindset.
Unspoken is not great, but it’s good. I bought it used in paperback; for the atmospheric descriptions and the cultural difference, Unspoken was worth the price. I liked it enough that I may go back and see if Mockingbird had the first book.