What I like about the Anita Sundström series is Torquil MacLeod’s willingness to try something new and to take risks. As a result, every book feels different from the ones that came before it. This is not a series that reverts to formula, other than in its alliterative titles (and in the outrageous twist at the end). And even the titles can be misleading. Much of the third novel, Missing in Malmö, is set in England, and the fourth, Midnight in Malmö, takes us to Berlin. I will say straight away that you should read the series as a whole, as there is reference to previous episodes, though Midnight does of course work as a stand-alone novel.
The novel features two distinct plots which don’t really intertwine at all, other than through the involvement of Anita herself. The A-plot features Anita and potential-boyfriend Kevin (a detective from England whom we met in the last novel) following a trail that leads into Cold War espionage. Back at base, the team tackle the case of a murder of a late-night runner of uncertain identity.
Anita’s absence from the B-plot leads to some interesting character development. In particular, Klara Wallen and the previously cartoon-like boss Moberg are given page time, and the latter becomes rather more three-dimensional. MacLeod has previously shown an enthusiasm for shaking up the team from the Polishus and he does it here again. I hope, by the way, to see more of the obnoxious Alice Zetterberg, who makes an agreeingly appalling nemesis for Anita.
This is a mystery novel that delivers big on accessible entertainment. The themes of the Cold War plot are somewhat ambiguous and we feel compromised, especially by the way they are not necessarily resolved; perhaps this is a deliberate tactic to set us up for the next instalment. Actually, I am not sure that I care too much about the case (other than that it takes us to East Berlin). What does work – very well – is the sense of cat-and-mouse as Anita and Kevin get deeper and deeper into the situation and turn from hunters to the hunted. They hold their nerve rather admirably. It could have been possible for this part of the novel, with its themes of travel and the outlandish nature of the original set-up, to feel like a holiday adventure, but the menace provided by the surveillance both on Anita and Kevin but also Jazmin and Lasse means that this is avoided.
I think that Torquil MacLeod has had some fun writing this. As well as the little asides such as the dig at his former profession, there are references that are not clues but which you would notice should you read the book again (I spotted them because I had folded some pages down for reference.) Speaking of clues, the reader has the satisfaction of solving a couple, but there is some rather good detective work and some impressive deduction, such as when Kevin works out someone’s political history from their address. In the case of the A-plot the solving of the puzzle becomes secondary to the chase.
The B-plot, though it picks up the idea of the race against time at the end, is rather less cut and dried. I read this in a week in which there has been revelation after revelation about the abuse of young people by those who had power over them. The life story of the murder victim reminds us that there are people of power in every community; you don’t have to be famous to be appalling.
Character-driven, action-packed and entertaining, Midnight in Malmö is an excellent addition to the series.
Thanks to McNidder and Grace for the review copy.