I don’t know about you but my reading habit has gone to the dogs in recent days. But I read Menace in Malmö a couple of months ago, and it’s what we need right now, so let me tell you about it.
I’m disappointed that the Malmö series featuring Anita Sundström is not better known. Torquil MacLeod is quite an experimental writer and is happy to play with his characters and the format of the detective procedural. We never feel things are getting stale. He’s also happy to bump off a character or two, to keep us on our toes. And that means something else too – a twist that plays to our baser natures that require an opponent: a human response that fuels much of social media even though the coronavirus has caused an outbreak of wholesomeness on Twitter and Facebook right now. I’m a big fan of writers who create flawed characters and still love them – this was one of the reasons why I loved Closely Watched Trains by Bohumil Hrabal. But in Alice Zetterberg, MacLeod has made a monster. He definitely hates her, he wants you to hate her too, and, frankly, I enjoyed it. If that makes me a bad person, so be it. It’s no different from skulking around Mailonline’s sidebar of shame.
Most of my marked passages involve Zetterberg being awful or doing something awful. She doesn’t like reading crime fiction, she lies about stuff to embarrass someone she dislikes, she is racist, jealous and unoriginal.
All this brings us much-needed levity (I don’t mean that racism and jealousy are themselves light; obviously I don’t mean that) and balances a dark and menacing tale of Anglo-Swedish modern slavery, which crackles with tension and includes plenty of set piece chases. I wonder if this particular storyline will re-appear in future Malmö novels, featuring as it does corruption in Scotland Yard: you feel that the Met may have unfinished business with Anita’s British boyfriend Kevin. But there is a note at the end of the novel which gives factual details of current day trafficking; I like this as it makes it clear that MacLeod has covered the topic out of outrage and not for exploitative entertainment purposes.
MacLeod obviously takes pleasure in reading around Swedish history: a previous novel touched on the investigation of the murder of Olaf Palme, and now we learn of the eighteenth-century essayist Jacob Jonas Björnstahl. MacLeod contrasts the historical adventurer with modern-day scribbler Carina Lindvall: she’s successful and glamorous and this contemporary and fictional lens somehow makes Björnstahl more real.
There’s plenty of depth in this novel but you can splash about in the shallow end too. It’s just what we need in these unsettling times.
I bought this from the Kindle store.
Previous coverage of the Malmö series: