During the Scandinavian winters, the cold creeps into your bones. The sky is gray like a bullet. And snow dumps continuously, turning ashen as exhaust spews from cars and buses.
Winter’s attributes mark the perfect setting for Scando crime novels, where killers are on the loose, hiding out in the murky darkness of an urban cityscape. This bleak, mysterious setting is brilliantly turned on its head in The Dead of Summer, the fifth novel in Mari Jungstedt’s Gotland series, featuring detective superintendent Anders Knutas. In The Dead of Summer, Jungstedt once again sequesters her readers on Gotland and other Swedish islands located in the Baltic Sea–but this time during the height of summer.
Whatever the weather, islands are the ideal location for Jungstedt’s crime thrillers: tension rises when detectives Knutas and his protégé Karin Jacobsson, meddling TV journalist Johan Berg and his photographer Pia, and we the readers are trapped in a claustrophobic space with an unknown killer, our only escape the odd ferry.
The Dead of Summer begins with the murder of a vacationing father on the beach, a summer idyll gone awry. In a city like Stockholm, the suspect could be anywhere in the city’s denseness, hiding out in alleys, underpasses or tenements rising high into the burlap sky. But on Gotland–or in this case Fårö, where the murder takes place–the perp is someone from the tented campsite where Peter Bovide was vacationing with his wife and small children.
In another twist, Jungstedt launches her novel without her protagonist. The murder occurs while detective Knutas is off island taking a much-deserved vacation, which means Jacobsson must handle the investigation on her own. But ever the workaholic, Knutas can’t stay away for long, and his return is met with mixed emotions by Jacobsson: she is glad to have him back, but frustrated not to sleuth out the suspects all on her own.
Jungstedt’s taut prose is gloriously deceptive. The Dead of Summer is not a fast-moving thriller, but the author’s storytelling delves briskly into her characters’ personal lives, a much-welcomed break from so many Scando crime novels that read too much like a screenplay–all action and zero interior motivations.
Without overloading the novel with action-packed set pieces, Jungstedt provides readers with enough bullet-torn corpses and mystery to keep us turning the pages. Eventually those pages lead lead to the docking of a Russian ship, and a second murder that sends Knutas and Jacobsson scurrying to find the missing link between the two deaths.
All month long, we’re celebrating the great books coming out of the upstart digital publisher Stockholm Text. And we’re pairing their best with ours. Right now, you can grab Mari Jungstedt’s latest novel Killer’s Art in a bundle with Edward Weinman’s debut Icelandic thriller The Ring Road. Buy them both with one click below, and be transported to the chilly criminal landscapes imagined by two accomplished authors.