It is truly difficult to pick a favorite author in the Nordic noir sweepstakes. Each week seemingly brings at least one title worthy of attention. The latest is THE DISAPPEARED by Kristina Ohlsson (with praiseworthy translation by Marlaine Delargy), the third (after UNWANTED and SILENCED) in the Fredrika Bergman series. As with its predecessors, this is a dark, complex and haunting work that matches the characteristics of its memorable protagonist.
THE DISAPPEARED opens with Bergman, an investigative analyst for the Stockholm police, on maternity leave and living with the recently divorced Spencer Lagergren, a literature professor some two decades her senior who is the father of her child. The accidental discovery of the buried and dismembered corpse of Rebecca Tolle, a college student who had gone missing two years previously, brings Bergman back to her police job. This event coincides, seemingly fortuitously, with Lagergren’s decision to go on maternity leave to take care of their infant daughter. What Bergman does not know is that Lagergren has been accused of improprietous behavior toward a female student, a fact that he attempts to keep secret from her as the charges escalate and his position at the university becomes more tenuous.
"THE DISAPPEARED rests upon Ohlsson’s most complex plot to date, but the primary focus is the characters, all of whom are memorable and fascinating."
Meanwhile, Bergman is keeping secrets of her own from Lagergren and her police colleagues. Her investigation into Tolle’s murder uncovers evidence indicating that Lagergren knew the victim around the time of her disappearance, which he has not revealed to her. In addition, Bergman finds that, around the time of her disappearance and death, Tolle had become obsessed with proving the innocence of Thea Aldrin, a once-popular author of children’s books who had been convicted of murdering her son’s father and was suspected of foul play in the disappearance of her son as well. Matters are further complicated by the discoveries of two more bodies at the same site where Tolle had been buried. These additional bodies, though, have been interred for decades. Who is responsible? And what links the corpses, other than their location?
Bergman’s professional future becomes jeopardized when Lagergren’s potential connection to the case --- along with her knowledge of it --- is discovered by the investigative team. As suspects are considered and discarded, a long-held secret waits to be revealed, as a woman who has not spoken a word in 30 years holds the key to the murders and more.
THE DISAPPEARED rests upon Ohlsson’s most complex plot to date, but the primary focus is the characters, all of whom are memorable and fascinating. Bergman’s colleagues, especially the widowed and still-grieving Alex Recht, are particularly interesting, to the extent that they almost steal the focus away from Bergman, who is driven to finish the investigation even if at times she would rather be at home with Lagergren and their infant daughter. Ohlsson also keeps the suspense level ratcheted ever higher, so that by the last 40 pages or so, her readership is collectively on the edge of its seat.
Not everyone makes it all the way to the end of THE DISAPPEARED, which undoubtedly will have ramifications in future volumes. While Ohlsson has had some success recently as a children’s book author, hopefully she will continue to balance that creative avenue with this mystery/suspense series, which remains spellbinding.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on March 14, 2014