Thursday, 3 January 2008

Sun and Shadows

It pays to be least in reading time! since I have been struck with a mysterious stomach ailment - not the flu, but a virus of some kind - I've been sleeping and reading for the past two days. Mostly sleeping, yesterday. Today, I finished Sun and Shadow by Ake Edwardson, a Swedish mystery writer. Erik Winter is the Detective Chief Inspector, and Sun and Shadow is the first book in the series to be translated into English.
It was slow-moving in the beginning, but by the end it was a solid mystery story, with believable characters and events. It is set in Gothenburg at the turn of the millenium, in winter. It brought back memories of my own millenium experiences, which were in England with my newly-married spouse, and I heard the boat horns that ring all over England at midnight, along with the fireworks, for the first and only time, at the New Year. Reading about the millenium celebrations in another country was odd at first, it seemed to date the mystery, and then in the middle of the book it didn't matter. There are two sets of double murders, and by the time of the second one (which occurs on the night of the new Millenium) the mystery and the story of how Erik Winter and his team of detectives solves the murders, is all-consuming. I could almost see the Goddess of Light parading down the street in Gothenburg, see the police out in force to maintain calm, and then the panic and shock when the double-murders are discovered late in the night. Because it is winter now here in Ottawa and winter in the book, I could relate to the minimal amounts of daylight they had in the book! and the cold..... This is a police procedural at its best; we are taken into the heart of the police investigation. I did find it odd that there was not much press urgency, no panic by the populace, no real urgency from Winter's boss, in the book. It is as if Ake Edwardson was concentrating on writing from the police perspective, from Erik Winter's perspective, and not concerned about the outer world. There is very little description of Gothenburg except for the high apartment buildings that become the centre of the clues to the killer. While the gothic culture is supposed to be what is investigated, we never get to meet any real goths nor their way of life, which I think limits the book. If I compare this novel to Henning Mankell's novels (the more well-known Swedish mystery writer), there is a difference in tone and scope - Mankell explores politics, the environment, society, current events that lift the books into an exploration of people and society, which I think the best mystery novels do. Edwardson explores detective work and how it is affected by the personal lives of the detectives - to some extent, as we see Winter's life most thoroughly. It is like a cottage mystery, because the author uses other parts of society but does not use characters to comment on that way of life, so the book is not lifted into commenting on the state of the world. That is something that I think the very best mystery writers do - Ian Rankin, PD James, Raymond Chandler, Mankell; I am not going to name them all, nor all my favourites! - these are just examples of mystery writers whose work reaches beyond the limits of genre - I think! - and become books exploring human nature and the world. I have often thought that the very best of mysteries teach us about good and evil, show us the world where both exist and the long, lonely struggle of each individual to choose. Mysteries show what happens when some choose evil over good, and those that fight to right it. Sun and Shadow is a solid mystery, and a good introduction to Swedish mystery writing, along with Henning Mankell and Asa Larsson.
A very good way to begin the new year of reading, though not so good for finishing the holidays this way - ill!


Patricia said...

So did you go to a New Year's party and bring back a bug of some sort?

Susan said...

Hi sis
I don't think so, no one else from the party got sick. Graham has a cold now, but there are a few bad viruses going around the city anyway.I met one of my bus ladies on the Thurs night coming home with Graham, and she had the same thing i did...which made me feel bad for her, but good for me! How is everyone there? Enjoying the thaw?