Mons Kallentoft takes us through yet another grim Swedish season in AUTUMN KILLING, the third in his addictive Malin Fors series (after MIDWINTER BLOOD and SUMMER DEATH). While you can read and appreciate his latest without the acquaintance of the first two installments, you’ll want to catch up regardless. Fors, a Linköping police detective, is the primary reason for this; she is a trainwreck of a character, one whose self-destruction of her personal life bleeds over into her professional one. Throw in a supporting cast comprised of figures who are almost as interesting as Fors herself, and you have a book that never flags, misses or skips a beat.
As one might guess from the title, AUTUMN KILLING occurs over the course of a week or so in late October and early November. The reader is reminded at every turn that Linköping is not Stockholm, being more provincial than cosmopolitan. The weather is unrelentingly damp and grim; it never seems to stop raining there, except when it threatens to snow. Linköping is not Miami, either. Kallentoft’s fine descriptive prose (wonderfully translated, yet again, by Neil Smith) is such that the pages almost seem damp as the story, which, told in the present tense, takes us to the scene of the murder of a notorious and reputedly ruthless attorney named Jerry Petersson. The barrister is found face down in the moat of his recently acquired castle, well-ventilated (though still he floats) by numerous stab wounds.
"AUTUMN KILLING is full of dark prose, flawed characters and enough tragedy for three Shakespearean plays. Naturally, I couldn’t help but love every single word of it."
The deceased had no friends but potentially numerous enemies, among them Axel Fagelsjo, whose family had owned the castle for generations. Fagelsjo had to sell the castle, reputedly for financial reasons --- a rumor that the older gentleman vehemently denies --- and almost certainly bears a grudge against the man who bought the property from him. Petersson had also included a ruthless criminal financier among his client list, and rumors of backstabbing and double-dealing abound. There is no shortage of suspects for Fors and her fellow investigators to zero in on, and when another individual turns up dead --- linked to the primary case, but hardly a target for murder himself --- the investigation finds itself in even murkier waters. It could not come at a worse time for Fors, whose alcohol intake is steadily on the increase, and her attempt to reconcile with her husband is totally on the rocks (yes, that was a deliberate pun) as a result.
The mystery is one that keeps the reader (and Fors) guessing throughout the book, so much so that when the doer was finally revealed, I almost thought that Kallentoft was tossing another red (not to mention smoked) herring into the mix. That does not prevent him, though, from throwing in an additional surprise or two at the story’s conclusion. Additionally, the sentence that closes the book (please don’t peek) is a quietly understated whopper, an unspoken promise that I firmly believe Kallentoft has absolutely no intention of keeping.
AUTUMN KILLING is full of dark prose, flawed characters and enough tragedy for three Shakespearean plays. Naturally, I couldn’t help but love every single word of it. The plot falls somewhere between extraordinarily simple and complex, so that the proceedings are relative easy to follow, even as the tantalizing murder mystery that constitutes the novel’s core is puzzling and perplexing. Despite her considerable problems, Fors is an expert at connecting seemingly disparate dots and forming conclusions that are usually correct, which results in her superiors cutting her some slack for her considerable personal shortcomings. But as we see in AUTUMN KILLING, that is true only up to a point. I cannot wait for the next installment.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on October 3, 2014