Comment • reviews • Nordic Noir • whimsy
Whenever I go into a bookshop, I look out for Torquil MacLeod’s titles. Partly because they were the first to include a quote from a Cafethinking review. But, more seriously, because I think they deserve a wider audience.
The Anita Sundström series is a diligent reader’s dream. Missing in Malmö has a sharp plot, a strong lead character and a sense of playfulness that can sometimes be missing in this genre. MacLeod is up for trying new things and seems to be happier than other writers to fiddle with the formula. New characters arrive, old ones drift away: it’s a state of affairs that’s more natural than the establishment of a detective team that sticks together in good times and bad – though you do get the feeling that MacLeod is really invested only in Anita as a character. (It helps that she is a great character.) Sometimes his ideas work and sometimes they’re a little iffy but you notice and that’s good. In fact, these books fall into quite a nice Goldilocks space: accessible and entertaining. They sit just below ‘true’ literary crime but are well worth engaging with properly. I really do recommend trying them out.
Missing in Malmö is a title that keeps alive the alliterative traditions of this series, but the crime that forms the foundation for the A-plot takes place on Tyneside, and there’s plenty of action across the north of England. The open landscape of Cumbria contrasts nicely with traditional urban Sweden; indeed, the this-could-lead-anywhere nature of the investigation is a neat counterpoint to what is an at first claustrophobic subplot. Obviously everything comes together at the end with a confident flourish of twists.
There are times when the Anglo-Swedish plot has the air of a road trip. We’re away from the enervating atmosphere generated by Anita’s obnoxious boss and MacLeod – who obviously enjoys the chance to describe his native country through a Swedish character’s eyes – lets her get all Bill Bryson:
Why were the British so obsessed with carpets? All this compacted fibre everywhere can’t be that hygienic.
There are plenty of jokes, but although you can read too much into these things, I wonder whether this particular one demonstrates MacLeod’s sense of otherness when it comes to producing Nordic Noir fiction; an otherness, by the way, which is well-earned but which may go some way to explaining why this series is relatively (and unfairly) neglected:
‘I think it would be too much for one person to take the victim captive, carry out all the beatings and torture, then get him onto a boat and dump the body. This is not a Danish TV crime series.’ The remark produced a few smirks.
In my review of Murder in Malmö I ask three questions for whatever book will follow; the questions concern Ewan Strachan, Westermark, and MacLeod’s development as an author. Missing… contains the answers to all three – the first two you will need to investigate for yourself but the third is a happy yes. But I don’t have any question for the next book in the series. I am beginning to trust Torquil MacLeod enough to know that he will get us there.
You may not find this series in every bookshop. That’s a shame. You should check it out.
Thanks to McNidder and Grace for the review copy.