Discovering Scandinavian crime novels can be quite an eye-opener, once you get past Girl With a Dragon Tattoo. There are just so many fine writers out there whose complex plotting and characterisation is the equal of any of more well-known English-speaking authors.
Shadow, by Karin Alvtegen is an example of a book that only a few years ago would have been lost to English speakers, but one good thing about the “Dragon Tattoo” thing is that publishers seem to be queuing up to support translations of other Scandinavians and put them on our shelves and e-readers.
It is very difficult to classify this book. It is not really a “crime novel”, although a serious crime is disclosed (but not until towards the end of the book). Its not a family saga either, although the story spans four generations of a family. Neither is it a thriller, for its story is low-key and almost rambling at times. The plotting is complex and draws the reader through many layers of unravelling until it all comes together in the last chapters. From the reviewers point of view its almost impossible to describe without spoiling it (but read on, I won’t do that).
There is a strong literary theme to this book. It centres around the life and work of fictional Nobel Prize winner Axel Ragnerfelt, not in his old age and paralysed after a serious stroke, so that he can only communicate by moving the little finger of one hand. The Nobel prize has been given because of Ragnerfelt’s message of eternal human values which pervades his work, and this is so unique that his son Jan Erik has made a career out of developing a charitable foundation in his father’s name and travelling around the globe delivering inspirational talks which spread a message of tolerance and hope.