Leif G.W. Persson, Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Linda – som i Lindamordet), trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith (London: Doubleday, 2013 ). 5 stars
Opening line: It was a neighbour who found Linda, and, all things considered, that was far better than her mother finding her.
The dedication at the front of Linda, As in the Linda Murder reads ‘for Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö – who did it better than almost anyone’. In this newly-translated novel, first published in 2005, author Leif Persson undoubtedly pays homage to the godparents of the Swedish police-procedural, and in particular to the first in Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck series, Roseanna, published exactly 40 years prior to Linda in 1965. Consider the following:
both novels are named after a young female murder victim
- both open with the discovery of the victim’s body, on 4 July and 8 July respectively
- both are set outside Stockholm in smaller Swedish cities (Motala and Växjö)
- both depict the police investigation in exhaustive detail
- both critique misogynist attitudes in Swedish society and foreground the female victim
- and … the murderer’s name in Linda echoes the murderer’s name in Roseanna!
However, the lead investigator in Linda, tasked with solving the murder of 20-year-old trainee police officer Linda Wallin one hot summer night, is no Martin Beck. Meet Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström, also known as ‘that fat little bastard from National Crime’, whose egotistical, sexist, racist, homophobic, vain and supremely-blinkered mind we are invited to see in all its dubious glory. Bäckström is a darkly comic tour-de-force, a monstrous creation who cares solely about his financial interests, maintaining a steady supply of drink, and the welfare of his pet goldfish Egon. His character is used to shine a spotlight on a less-than-heroic side of Swedish policing: while he is busy impeding the progress of the investigation, capable detectives such as Jan Lewin are forced to work around his prejudices and incompetence as best they can.
Thus, at the same time as paying tribute to Sjöwall and Wahlöö, Persson stamps his own style on the Swedish police procedural, imbuing it with a highly satirical edge. Other aspects of Roseanna, such the critique of the press’s prurient interest in female murder victims, are also extended further in Linda (see my earlier post on crime fiction and the media for details).
In the context of Persson’s own work, Linda forms a departure from his first two hugely ambitious novels, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End and Another Time, Another Life, which are set against the much larger political and historical backdrop of post-war Sweden and the Cold War. In Linda, the focus is kept deliberately local, with the exploration of the consequences of just one crime, and strongly drawn characters such as detectives Jan Lewin and Anna Holt, as well as the murderer and the victim’s mother. Hats off also to translator Neil Smith, who captures Persson’s dry, satirical tone perfectly.
In sum, Linda is a rich and satisfying read from an author who’s now one of my absolute favourites.
A useful further note from Neil Smith on Persson’s novels – poached with Sarah’s kind permission from the comments of the excellent Crimepieces Linda review – and with a couple of additions from me in square brackets:
Neil says >> As so often happens, Leif’s books are being published in a slightly different order in translation to their original Swedish publication.
The three books Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End (Sw. 2002, tr. 2011), Another Time, Another Life (Sw. 2003, tr. 2012), and Free Falling, as if in a Dream (Sw. 2007, tr. 2014), together make up a trilogy entitled ‘the Decline of the Welfare State’.
One of the main characters from that trilogy, Lars Martin Johansson, takes the lead in a later novel, The Dying Detective (Sw. 2010, as yet untranslated) [and appears a bit in Linda as well].
Evert Bäckström [who appears as a secondary character in the ‘Welfare State’ trilogy] is the focus of a further series of books, of which Linda, As in the Linda Murder (Sw. 2005) is the first. He Who Kills the Dragon (Sw. 2008), due to be published in English in October 2013, is the second in the series, and will be followed by Pinocchio’s Nose (not yet published in Sweden). <<
Mrs. Peabody awards Linda, As in the Linda Murder, a wonderfully rich and satisfying 5 stars
With thanks to Transworld for sending me an advance copy of this book.
Mrs. P. – What a brilliant comparison you make between this novel and Rosanna. Very astute. Thanks for this thorough and thoughtful review. And I have to say, I like the titles of these novels!
Thanks, Margot. I always try hard not to look at anyone else’s reviews before writing my own, so I’m not sure if others have already picked up on the Roseanna connection. I always look at dedications and introductory quotes for ‘clues’ when starting a novel – they sometimes reveal a surprising amount. In this case, it was great fun going back to Roseanna and finding the similarities. I think Persson’s having fun with some in-jokes – he really seems to enjoy his writing and playing these sorts of games 🙂
I can’t wait for the others to come out – what treats await us!
Mrs P I did mention in my review for Euro Crime that the book reminded me of Martin Beck:
‘This is Scandinavian crime fiction at its very best and it is appropriate that the dedication is “to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo – who did it better than almost anyone”. This novel reminded me of my first discovery of the Martin Beck series’
But although I still have a copy of Roseanna on my shelves I actually read this novel in the first English translation over 40 years ago  . My old memory was not up to picking up the similarities you cleverly spotted.
I agree I think we are in for a treat with this series.
Thanks very much for flagging this up, Norman – I’ve just been over to have a read – it’s an excellent review. I’m adding the link here for others to see: http://www.eurocrime.co.uk/reviews/Linda_as_in_the_Linda_Murder.html
I’ve asked Neil Smith whether the Roseanna connection was been picked up in Sweden when the novel was published in 2005, or whether Persson highlighted the connection himself in interview. I’ll report back if so.
Sounds great Mrs P – and as a fan of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö this sound pretty irresistible even though the title is certainly a bit on the lumpen side (is that just the translation or does it read the same in Swedish) – either way, the series sounds fascinating.
Thanks, Sergio.The title is a little more streamlined in Swedish because they use a compound noun (Lindamordet) for ‘the Linda murder’. Arguably, the title could have been shortened just to ‘Linda’, but the second bit becomes very important by the end of the novel, and I’m guessing that’s why it was left in.
Hope you enjoy it!
I have only skimmed through your review, Mrs P. I’ll save your entry to read it after reading the book.
I’ll look forward to hearing what you think about it, Jose Ignacio.
What a great review. I had picked up on some similarities to Roseanna but your list makes interesting reading. I totally agree about Backstrom. What a great character and I’m so looking forward to the next book.
Me too, Sarah. One of the things I particularly like about Persson is how all of his novels (in whichever series) are interconnected through characters like Johansson and Backstrom, who play either a main or secondary role as the narrative requires. Very clever.
So, is he a sort of Dalziel character?
Hi Alex, I would think worse. Am I right in thinking that Dalziel has a fundamentally good heart and lovable side? Backstrom most definitely doesn’t… He may be too full on for some readers!
Goodhearted, yes. Lovable, I’m not so sure about!
Well done Mrs P, brilliant review. I had not, picked up on those similarities to Roseanna, seems obvious now! Will start looking for other ones now in future books! I’ve seen only one other review. That’s on Amazon, clearly that reviewer does not seem to know S&W. A big thanks for including those comments by Neil Smith, great to know there’s a new book due to come out in Sweden.
Although god knows when we will see that. Also congrats & thanks to Neil for his excellent translation, it’s easy to forget the translator. Does he know anything about whether we will see the earlier books. Personaly I like the titles, makes them stand out, thought the trilogy was called story of a crime? Maby that just refers to books 1&3. For me Persson ranks alongside Le Carre & William Boyd as authors I buy straight away, & along with Grahame Greene & Sjowall & Wahloo are my favourite writers.
Thanks, Brian! It was great fun doing a little detective work myself 🙂
I totally second your comments about Neil’s translation – getting Persson’s tone right is absolutely crucial and he does a fantastic job. Translators are the unsung heroes and heroines of international crime fiction.
Like you, I’ve seen the subtitle ‘story of a crime’ on Between Summer’s Longing and Another Time. I’ll try to remember to ask Neil and to report back…
Thanks for posting the link Mrs P.
You’re very welcome, Norman.
Enjoyed your review very much. Thanks for all the background on the timeline on the books by Persson. I had seen the comments at Sarah’s blog, but it took a 2nd reading for me to get it. Sounds like I might enjoy reading Roseanna first, which is in my plans for this year. I am sure I read some of the Martin Beck series way back when, but they are not still in my memory, so will all be fresh.
Thanks, TracyK. I had a leaf through Roseanna when I was hunting down the connections, but am tempted to have a proper read again now. I have the whole Beck series on my shelf; it might be a nice summer project to revisit them all. Hope you enjoy Roseanna if you decide to read it first.
Looking forward to reading this one, actually already on order from my local library; I really need to read Roseanna too – might even have to buy that one (shock horror!)
Hope you enjoy them both, Blighty 🙂
Just finished re-reading The Locked Room. I still laugh out load at the botched Police raid, even though this is the 3rd time of reading, it’s the one were Rhea Neilson makes her first appearance, probably my favourite S&W book. I’ve just started ‘ The Minotaur’s Head’ by Marek Krajewski. This is the 4th of his Eberhard Mock series. An excellent Polish writer who I rate highly, his books are set mainly in Pre-War Breslau. If you have not read him, I do recommend him.
Thanks, Brian. Glad you enjoyed The Locked Room. Time to go back to re-read – thanks for the nudge.
I read the first couple of the Mock series a while back and wasn’t totally enamoured (some quite graphic violence which I wasn’t entirely sure about – scorpions, I seem to remember?!). But I do need to read these for my academic research at some point. Perhaps a better moment now if there are four books – it’ll be easier to get an overview reading them in one go.
It is 4.30 in the morning in Australia. I had to wake up to finish Linda, as in the Linda Murder. It was a very satisfying read. Talk about black comedy.. I guess that Backstrom is a prop in order to highlight the rest of the detectives. Yes, he is my favourite Nordic writer. Leif G.W. Persson and I cannot wait to have all his books translated in Australia. I am still chuckling.
Definitely worth a mid-night reading session!
Linda still ranks as one of my absolute top reads this year. Wonderful black humour, but used in a very illuminating way as you say. Clever and very entertaining.
well I am off to the library to chase up Summer’s Longing and Winter’s end. I have read another time another life. I am on a Leif G.W. Persson. kick
Did I say I have housework to do, plus my car to put in for a service. Noooooooooo. Recommend any more such books in a similar vein.
Morning, Helen. Life does have a tendency to get in the way, doesn’t it? 😉
To be honest, I can’t think of another writer who blends social critique and sardonic humour in quite that way (which is one of the reasons why his work stands out for me). I’m just trying to be patient while waiting for the others to come out in translation!
Recent crime novels I’ve read with dark humour (and which are not necessarily to everyone’s taste) include Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl (US), and Simon Urban’s Plan D (Germany). Both are slightly outrageous, but in a good way.
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