The Viper
Hakan Ostlundh
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Buy *The Viper* by Hakan Ostlundh online

The Viper
Hakan Ostlundh
Minotaur Books
368 pages
August 2012
rated 3 1/2 of 5 possible stars

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Ostlundh writes a bleak tale of a double murder on the island of Gotland in Sweden, a man and woman found in a sea of blood in a rural farmhouse. Days earlier, Arvid Traneus returned home from an extended stay in Tokyo on business, his family making preparations to gather for a celebratory dinner. The brutal murders change all that, the female victim Kristina Traneus, the other assumed to be Arvid but so badly mutilated as to be unrecognizable.

Forensic evidence indicates that the male victim is Arvidís cousin, Anders Traneus, who once dreamed of marrying Kristina until Arvidís overwhelming personality swept her away. Not only did Arvid steal Kristinaís affections from his cousin, but he has garnered numerous enemies on the island in a growing list of suspects. Once it is determined that Arvid has disappeared and is nowhere to be found, the mystery evolves into a two-pronged investigation. It is up to police detective Fredrik Broman to untangle the enmity that has resulted in the gruesome slayingsóand locate the missing Arvid Traneus.

Though this is essentially a police procedural, the author adds another element of interest that humanizes his characters: an exploration of Bromanís private life, the state of his marriage and a recent short affair with another detective that has left both profoundly uncomfortable when working in close proximity to one another. Broman has a slightly sordid history of short affairs, he and his wife having reconciled only recently after counseling. As the troubling case unfolds, motive and suspects become more complicated and treacherous in their murky connections. The memory of this heinous crime will not soon fade from the imaginations of the locals, as the detectives uncover years of infidelity and betrayal, a family riddled with dysfunction and the terrifying rage of a man who brooks no argument with his intentions.

A few unexpected twists along the way include the gruesome nature of Arvidís fate and a shocking incident that leaves everyone involved in the investigation in limbo for the foreseeable future. The image of bloody murders in this pristine landscape leaves an indelible imprint on the mind, as well as imagining a moment of ungovernable passion that allows a killer to savagely slay his victim. Scenes of a hospital room, where a patient lies at the mercy of his injury, compound the irony of a serene countryside marred with violence and murder. The confused emotions of those left without answers attest to the randomness of fate and a momentís loss of self-awareness.

Ostlundh balances these opposites with a deft hand, both in the investigation of the murders and the identification of the killer (though the reader may suspect who is at fault), adding texture to the lives of those with difficult careers where death is commonplace and human behavior rarely surprises. Bromanís humanity and unique set of personal problems add a more relatable ambiance to the story, but there is no way to alleviate the unrelenting sense of violence and despair that permeates the novel from the start.

Originally published on Curled Up With A Good Book at © Luan Gaines, 2012

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