Gerhardsen’s mystery/thriller is a mix of stark imagery and murder that sets the stage with a shocking incident in 1968 Sweden. A group of children are released from school after the bell rings. The rowdy group tumbles outside, chooses a helpless target for their attention, and bullies him mercilessly, leaving the boy tied up in the street. Another child, nearly the target but overlooked once the boy was chosen, watches the torture of the classmate unfold before hurrying home.
In 2006, Chief Inspector of Stockholm’s Violent Crimes Unit Conny Sjoberg begins investigating a recent murder: a strange man bludgeoned to death in the home of an elderly woman who was elsewhere at the time of the incident. When the woman returns from the hospital after a surgery, she discovers the dead man on her kitchen floor in a pool of blood. Using the usual rigorous if tedious techniques of solving such a murder, Sjoberg gathers information in order to first identify the victim then track his recent activities for possible connections to the old woman who found him. The victim, a realtor, was forty-four years old, expecting to meet with an owner by appointment, so to return home.
A second murder soon follows, just as obscure in intention but with an entirely different scenario, as disturbing in its way as the first—and as specifically violent. Then there is a third murder in a remote village outside the city. The only possible link between these crime scenes is that each of the victims is forty-four years old at the time of death. What is essentially a police procedural (with a bit of a stiff translation) now has ominous overtones of a killer’s suppressed rage and the likelihood of more such murders.
The author weaves the personal life of the inspector into the daily investigation of the cases. Sjoberg ruminates on family activities and demands at the same time as she considers the possible connections between victims and a perpetrator with a deadly agenda. Occasional chapters titled “Diary of a Murderer” indicate the motivation of the killer and what has become a mission to annihilate certain individuals. Repressed rage surfaces in the particularity of the murders, those who perhaps have deserved some kind of reckoning, if not certain death. Eventually, the only fact linking the crimes is a common association in 1968, when all the victims were children.
The contrast of the terrible deaths against the pristine winter beauty of a city blanketed in snow gives this thriller its eerie sense of menace, heightened by the ranting of a murderer against injustices done long ago. A final rampage of revenge until the cycle is finished, the crime scenes paint a stark portrait of psychic pain turned violent. The effect—even with the literal translation—is successful: the horror of sudden, inexplicable death, the musings of a lonely man once punished for his difference, and the perseverance of detectives moving closer to their prey, the perfect synchronicity of a tragic ending ordained long ago: “You can’t abuse a person the way you and your friends do, without leaving marks.”