Reading the new Swedish thrillers that have flooded the market since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, a reader develops some familiarity with the style of Scandinavian police procedurals: a logical treatment of the facts inhibited by a sometimes bloodless feel to the narrative. Occasional excesses of emotion are confined to those who commit foul deeds or their victims, but passion is not a necessary ingredient. Killer's Art is no exception, perhaps even more intellectually inclined due to the connection between murder and the esoteric art world.
When gallery owner Egon Wallin is found hanging spectacularly from a public place, the small Swedish island of Gotland is stunned. Detective Sergeant Andres Knutas is unsure of where to begin what will be a frustrating and difficult investigation. Because of Wallin's affinity with the art world, the first place to begin interviews besides the victim's personal relationships is with his associations at the gallery. When a painting, Nils Dandel's "The Dying Dandy," is stolen from a museum in Sweden, the links between art and murder become stronger, all leading back to Gotland and the bizarre murder of the gallery owner. It isn't until a second, equally graphic murder occurs after Wallin's funeral that the investigation finally bears fruit for the detectives.
TV journalist Johan Berg, stationed in Sweden, travels to Gotland for what becomes a parallel investigation in his capacity as a reporter. Since Johan's fiancé and infant daughter live on Gotland, Berg is happy for any excuse to visit the island. The murder intrigues him to the point of obsession as he assembles his own cast of suspicious characters. It is Berg's investigation, however, that injects a near-tragedy into the news story, an action that has its own disturbing consequences for the authorities, but most especially for the journalist.
Personal details flavor the novel in spite of its dry prose, the small dramas of lives involved in solving crimes, including an upheaval in Anders' formerly well-oiled department, the perpetrator's motive, and the peripheral characters touched by the investigation. Certainly the identity of the killer and the reason for his deadly rampage is at the heart of Killer's Art, which eventually reveals not only the rarified society of the art world but the sexual activities of a group of wealthy men whose status allows them relative anonymity to pursue their deviant interests. Beauty, pleasure and excess are hallmarks of this society, one more of whom is plucked from his private entertainments to star in the killer's deadly tableau before it is finished.
Though the pace is slow and deliberate, the author follows the successful procedural format, accelerating the pace of the action as the story nears its end, not a few characters left to lick their wounds in unresolved issues—and perhaps the next volume. Though not compelling, the intellectual approach to crime writing has its merits, but the style is limited in its sameness from author to author. In any case, murder honors no borders.