Friday, August 1, 2008

REVIEW: The Demon From Dakar, by Kjell Eriksson

The Demon from Dakar, by Kjell Eriksson. Published 2008 by St. Martin's. Fiction. Crime Fiction. Translated from the Swedish.

I'm not a big mystery-suspense person, and The Demon from Dakar isn't my normal reading fare, but as a librarian I try stay current on trends in publishing and one thing that's stood out for me in the last year or so is the influx of Scandinavian crime novels into the American literary scene. Authors like Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason, Karin Fossum and Asa Larsson have been heating up bookstores and making readers' pulses race with their tight, suspenseful crime writing, set in places that I normally associate with clogs and fjords.

One of the best voices to emerge is Kjell Eriksson, whose mysteries have made a big splash, garnering praise and selling well. My father in law is a mystery/suspense addict and he gobbled up the selection of Scandinavian crime writing I picked out for him last year based on conference notes and press coverage, including a prior Eriksson hit, Cruel Stars of the Night; when I got my hands on Eriksson's latest, I did the same.

The Demon from Dakar is set in Upsala, Sweden, an urban area about which I know very little; Eriksson presents it as a bustling multicultural city, cosmopolitan and very European. The Dakar is a restaurant around which the action revolves; the characters include seedy owner Slobodan Andersson, his right-hand man Armas (the murder victim), guileless waitress Eva, and Manuel, a Mexican man who comes to Sweden to visit his brother in prison. Dakar also features Ann Lindell, Eriksson's serial detective, who has appeared in several of his previous books.

The reader is present at the murder so the only mystery is if and when Lindell will catch the killer. Eriksson does a nice job of creating a believable universe of people, each with his or her own problems, baggage, weaknesses and foibles; the characters are multifaceted and complex, and it's difficult to judge any of them too harshly- even the killer. For me Dakar was as much about watching the characters' personal struggles work themselves out as it was about the murder. Indeed, sometimes the murder felt almost tangential- it's the reason for the book, but it's not really what the book is about. The way the murder is resolved reflects its place in the novel's hierarchy of importance.

I had a good time reading The Demon from Dakar- as I said, not my usual fare but I enjoyed how the different plots and characters interacted and intertwined, and I liked the moral ambiguity the characters possessed. Who is the demon of the Dakar? By the end I really wasn't sure. But I know I read a pretty good book.

Rating: BEACH

FTC Disclosure: I did not receive this book for review from the publisher.


Ruth King said...

Thanks for the review, Marie! I love the mystery genre, but I've mostly limited myself to classic mysteries. I've been wanting to branch out, though, so I think I'll give Eriksson a try.

Anonymous said...

A thoughtful review, Marie. Mystery is not my fare either but I don't mind curling up with a good read. Sounds like this is it. Do you think, as a librarian, more new books are in this genre rather than literature?

Marie Cloutier said...

Matt, I absolutely think that crime and suspense writing is flourishing. More than literary fiction? Hard to say. What's hard for me is recognizing literary fiction without having to read it first! Genre is easy to identify but when it comes to mainstream fiction there is such a wide range that it's hard to tell sometimes. I don't know how much international literary fiction gets translated and sold here; I think mystery/suspense sells better and tends to be marketed more aggressively and more pointedly, hence the influx of European crime writing. Someone figured out that hey, Americans like crime writing and there are these great Euro crime writers- let's bring them here. I think there's plenty of good literature out there but the trick is finding it.

Iliana said...

I love mysteries/crime fic and have been enjoying a lot of the Scandinavian thrillers that have been coming out in the past couple of years. I haven't read this one but it's on my TBR list! Thanks for the review of this one Marie.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried out Henning Mankell at all? I read his first, Faceless Killers, and thought it was great. The Scandinavian setting gives a mystery a really cool atmosphere, I think. I'll have to try out this author too!