#27 / Leif G.W. Persson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime

Leif G.W. Persson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime, trans. from the Swedish by Paul Norlen (London: Black Swan, 2011 [2002]). An epic crime novel and bravura account of one of Sweden’s greatest unsolved crimes  4 stars

Opening line: The best informant is the one who hasn’t understood the significance of what he has told.

Like Peter Høeg’s Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow, this novel opens with an unexplained fall from a tall building in the freezing depths of a Scandinavian winter. In the case of Persson’s Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End, the casualty is a young American, John Krassner, whose death is initially presumed to be suicide, but might well be something more sinister – for how to explain the fact that his shoe hit the ground a good ten seconds after his body?

For a significant portion of the text, the reader might reasonably assume that Krassner’s death is the ‘crime’ referenced in the novel’s subtitle. However, as the narrative unfolds over a sprawling 638 pages, it becomes clear that his demise is linked to a much larger crime – one that took place in Sweden in 1986 and remains unsolved to this day. If you can’t quite remember that event, I’d advise you to stay away from reviews until you’ve finished the book (my reading experience was considerably enhanced by putting two and two together at a relatively late stage – the biggest ‘OMG’ reading moment I’ve had in years). But if you can’t wait, or are looking for illumination after reading the novel, click here

In common with a number of Swedish crime authors since the 1960s, Persson has a rather jaundiced view of Swedish society and is highly critical of the authorities and the power wielded by the state. The police are depicted as racist or misogynist bunglers, with the Swedish secret police force (Säkerhetspolisen or Säpo) shown in a particularly harsh light. What makes the strength of this critique startling and more than a little interesting is the author’s own long-held position within the Swedish establishment. As the blurb on the inside front cover tells us, Persson has enjoyed an eminent career as ‘Scandinavia’s most renowned criminologist and leading psychological profiler’, as well as being an advisor to the Swedish Ministry of Justice and a professor serving on the National Swedish Police Board. It would be interesting to know how these august bodies reacted to the very negative depictions of the state and its law enforcement agencies within the novel.

One of the few likeable figures in the book is Superintendent Lars Martin Johansson, the ‘honest Swedish cop’ who digs the deepest into Krassner’s death. But even he is only able to discover a portion of the truth: as individual acts collide with one another and fuse with shady political operations in Sweden and beyond, a set of events unfolds whose complexities are beyond the understanding of a lone investigator. In the end, only the reader is provided with a privileged viewpoint in which everything adds up, while being given to understand that no ordinary Swede would ever have a hope of getting near the truth. And of course this is just one possible imagining of those seminal events in 1986 – there are numerous other ways these might have played out.

This is not a crime novel for the faint-hearted: its hundreds of pages, multiple narrative perspectives and complex plotlines require considerable commitment. But once the different strands come together together in the final part the novel, the reader’s efforts are rewarded as the ambition, range and intelligence of the narrative is revealed.  In many ways a political and social history of Sweden since the Second World War, this Kafkaesque narrative tackles big themes (the relation of the individual to the state, loyalty, betrayal, trauma, the precariousness of democracy), but is also rich in satirical humour (look out for ‘Anderson’s Confusion Syndrome’) – and for me was a highly satisfying read.

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End is the first in a trilogy. The second part has recently been translated into English, entitled Another Time, Another Life.

Mrs. Peabody awards Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End an ambitious and satisfying 4 stars.

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21 thoughts on “#27 / Leif G.W. Persson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End: The Story of a Crime

  1. I have book 2 on my shelf to read but not this one. I’m inclined to start with book 2 anyway as I can’t always start a series at the beginning. I’m not put off by the throught of multiple narrative perspectives, in fact, I rather like the sound of it!

    • Thanks, Sarah. I love complex narratives with multiple perspectives, but know they are not everyone’s cup of tea. Glad they are yours though! I’m looking forward to the second one, but will have a little break first…

  2. I had to have two goes at this book but I’m glad I got through it. I agree about the OMG ending but I am not so sure that I liked Johannson all that much- he was a survivor and a pragmatist but not sure how honest as opposed to loyal to himself and the police force.

    As a matter of interest, I read the next book (which isn’t really a sequel but shares some of the same characters) and thoroughly enjoyed it. Rather than feeling like a chore (and a bit miserable because of the relentless misogyny and corruption) it was highly enjoyable, very Sjowall/Wahloo like (but longer) including the ending. Perhaps it is because the author takes a much clearer moral stance in the second book.(Another Time Another Life). I’ve reviewed both at Petrona in case of interest.

    There are more books to come – Neil Smith is translating some of them – featuring the odious Backstrom.

    • Thanks, Maxine, for this interesting comparison of the two books. It sounds like the second is slightly more familiar territory for us as readers and I’m glad to hear that there’s a bit of a break from the bleakness (albeit useful in terms of social critique).

      I know what you mean about Johannson, but in comparison with the rest of the characters he seemed positively adorable! It’s all relative, I guess!

  3. It sounds like a fascinating book, but not one I’m likely to read now, with the length. I’m too swamped and the TBR list is too big to climb over. I’m still waiting for The Collini Case to show up at my library. That’s about my speed for now. I will put this book on my list and tell friends about it. The constant misogyny and bigotry would be hard to take, but if I knew the author was criticizing those aspects of the state, then I could deal with it, I think.

    • I think this is one that keeps well, Kathy. I had it sitting on my shelf for ages before I felt in exactly the right mood for a long and convoluted tale of corruption and skulduggery! And yes, not one to read if you’re already feeling a little fed up with the world for its misogyny or bigotry. You have to be in just the right mood… Rewarding once you get into it though.

  4. Yes Maxine has just said everything I was going to say! According to Amazon, 3 more books are
    to be released next year. This is the first in the Backstrom series, there are 2 more in this series,
    & the conclusion to Between etc. I think it comes out in Oct 13. I loved both these books, to me
    he’s the natural successor to Sjowall/Wahloo. Great website, thank you Mr Lawson!
    Changing the subject, what do fans think of the Martin Beck Murders? I’m enjoying it, & glad they
    are getting the recognition they deserve, but I can’t help feeling there’s something missing?
    I like the casting of Beck & Kollberg, & will be fascinated to see who plays Lasson. As I say just
    can’t put my finger on it.

    • Thanks for your comment, brianbird2012!

      I’ve just treated myself to Another Time, Another Life, and am looking forward to sinking my teeth into it this weekend; I’m curious about the West German angle in particular. It’s lovely to discover an author with a sizeable back-catalogue, isn’t it?

      I’d be interested to know what people make of the Martin Beck dramatisations on Radio 4 too. I must confess that I haven’t listened to any as yet (they are around for a good while to come on iPlayer), but am looking forward to them very much. Something missing? I’ll bear that in mind when I listen in. For those who are interested, they can be accessed here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b01mnxnw

      Best, Mrs. P.

  5. Checked Amazon again & there are 3 books due for release next year. 1 in march 2 in oct. I also went on his Wikipedia sight very interesting indeed! Explains his attitude to the police! Seems he’s published 10 books so we are way behind. Mind you Amazon seems to have all his books in various European languages. Enjoyed the interview with Jason Webster, just finishing the new one, also have Gurerra to read.

    • Thanks for sharing the fruits of your research with us, brianbird2012 🙂 I’ll check out the Wiki entry.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the Jason Webster interview – it’s quite rare to find an author who has written on a country in both fiction and non-fiction formats. I’m keen to read Guerra too, and to see how much of it has found its way into the Camara series.

  6. Update on publishing info. This comes from Amazon & a great website by the Solomon agency, I think that’s what is called, anyway it’s a related link on Wikipedia for Persson or S&W. It lists all the Scandi crime writers with titles, publishing data & synopsis of the books, even gives what countries have bought the publishing rights. Well worth going on. Feb 2013 first of the Backstrom books, pub. 2005, Oct 2013 2nd of the Backstrom books pub 2008. Not till 2014 will we get the conclusion of the Palme murder series, which is very disappointing.

    He has published 10 books the first one non fiction. This covers what happened to him when he was used as a whistleblower to expose a minister in the Palme Cabinet who had connections with a prostitute ring! Yes I know sounds like one of his novels, explains his views on police etc. Also there is a film by Bo Widerberg of one his novels, called ‘man from Mallorca’/Majorca. checked this out on Amazon, no DVD, but a related link brought up the film on flexifilms? Will look in to this more to see if it really is available.

    Last book In the Martin Johansson series, or so it seems, published 2010, called the ‘The Dying Detective’, which says it all. First books came out in the 80’s, so easy to see how he was influenced by the Martin Beck series, Johanssson reminds me of Larsson.

    • Thanks, brianbird2012, for all of this fantastic research and excellent information! It looks like there are lots of Persson-shaped treats coming our way, which is great news.

      Was it the Salomonsson Agency site that you were referring to? In case others are interested, the link to Persson’s info is as follows: http://salomonssonagency.se/php/author.php?lang=en&authid=20

      You’re right – it’s an absolute treasure trove of information. Thanks for finding it!

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  8. Yippie Linda etc was downloaded to my iPad yesterday, as I’ve now finished CS Sansoms turgid
    Dominion, don’t know what all the fuss is about, very poor read & overlong. To me the best alternate 2nd World War book is ‘ The Man in the High Castle’ by Philip K Dick 30 years or so since I read it, will have to re order. Anyway looking forward to read ing Mr Perssons new book,
    I see he has dedicated to Sjowall & Wahloo.

    • Yippee indeed – hope you enjoy. I spotted the dedication to Sjowall and Wahloo as well – and having finished the book think that’s significant in a couple of different ways 🙂

      I haven’t ever read ‘The Man in the High Castle’ – thanks for the tip!

      • I enjoyed it immensely. As I said befor, when I started the first book in the ‘ Story of a Crime’ he struck me as the natural successor to S&W, even more so in this novel. There can’t be many authors who have such an obnoxious main character as Backstrom, usually they come up with someone you can empathise with, with Backstrom you just want to slap him!

        Still that’s Perssons strengths, he keeps you hooked, as always very strong characterisation, just like S&W, & also like them a multitude of characters. I enjoye the new ones, Lewin & Mattei. Hopefully we’ll come across them again, but not till October! To long!

        I must admitt I did give a metaphorical cheer when I got to chapter 50, & the name Lars Martin Johannson appeared , I thought now some backsides are going to be kicked! A 5 * book for me.

        Will you be reviewing it? How did you finish it so quick, did you get review copy befor it came out, or do you read Swedish?

        I see ‘ the Dyeing Detective’ has won 2 best crime novels for 2010 in Sweden, doubt if we’ll see this untill 10/2014. One last thought, it just came to me while writing this, does Lewis remind you of Martin Beck? Johansson deffinatatly reminds me of Larsson.

  9. Hi Brian – very glad to hear that you enjoyed 🙂 Funnily enough, I just decided today that I will review, as the novel’s stayed in my mind for a number of reasons since I finished it. In answer to your question, I was sent a review copy – I don’t speak Swedish, unfortunately, though I’d love to learn.

    I liked the novel for many of the same reasons you did. Backstrom really is unforgettable, isn’t he? Such an original character. Hmm – I’ll have to think about the Lewin / Beck connection – I reckon you could be on to something there.

    • Needless to say I’m looking forward to your review, quite an interesting one on Amazon. Yes I agree it does stay in the memory. It just struck me that Lewin reminded of Beck. Speaking of which when I finish Tash Aw’s ‘The Harmony Silk Factory’, I’m going to re-read ‘The Locked Room’. I recommend Aw’s book for your books set in a foreign climes, it set in Malaysia.

      Due to the period when the Beck books were wrote, there are no female detectives, it would be interesting to see if they would have brought in a strong female character, as I feel Persson has.

      Just looked up the Dahl books, seems on the same levell as Spiral.

  10. That’s a good point about strong female characters, Brian. I really liked the way that Persson highlighted the quality of Johansson’s top (female) investigators!

    Thanks too for the recommendation of Aw’s novel – I’ll take a look at this now.

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