commissaire inspector dottore
a bibliography of detective-inspector novels
the alex recht seriesAskungar. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2009.
∴ Askepot. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2010.
∴ Utangarðsbörn. Translated by Jón Danielsson. Reykjavík: JPV, 2010.
∴ Indesiderata. Translated by Alessandro Bassini & Sara Culeddu. Milano: Piemme, 2010.
∴ Niechciane. Translated by Grazyna Pietrzak-Porwisz. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2010.
∴ Les enfants de cendres. Translated by Hélène Hervieu. Paris: J'ai lu, 2011.
∴ Aschenputtel. Translated by Susanne Dahmann. München: Limes, 2011.
∴ Unwanted. New York: Emily Bestler / Washington Square [Simon &Schuster], 2012.
∴ Elegidas. Translated by Mayte Giménez & Pontus Sánchez. Barcelona: Espasa, 2012.
Tusenskönor. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2010.
∴ Tusindfryd. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2011.
∴ Odwet. Translated by Grazyna Pietrzak-Porwisz. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2011.
∴ Baldursbrár. Translated by Jón Danielsson. Reykjavík: JPV, 2011.
∴ La fille au tatouage. Translated by Hélène Hervieu. Neuilly-sur-Seine: Lafon, 2012.
∴ Tausendschön. Translated by Susanne Dahmann. München: Limes, 2012.
∴ Fiore di ghiaccio. Translated by Alessandro Bassini and Sara Culeddu. Milano: Piemme, 2012.
∴ Silenced. New York: Emily Bestler / Atria [Simon & Schuster], 2013.
∴ Silenciadas. Translated by Juan Capel. Barcelona: Espasa, 2013.
Änglavakter. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2011.
∴ Skytsengle. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2012.
∴ The Disappeared. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. London: Simon & Schuster, 2013.
∴ Les anges gardiens. Translated by Hélène Hervieu. Neuilly-sur-Seine: Lafon, 2013.
∴ Sterntaler. Translated by Susanne Dahmann. München: Limes, 2013.
∴ Verndarenglar. Translated by Jón Daníelsson. Reykjavík: JPV, 2013.
∴ Perduta. Translated by Alessandro Bassini. Milano: Piemme, 2013.
∴ Na skraju ciszy. Translated by Wojciech Lygas. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2013.
Paradisoffer. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2012.
∴ Paradisoffer. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2013.
∴ Himmelschlüssel. Translated by Susanne Dahmann. München: Limes, 2014.
∴ Paradísarfórn. Translated by Jón Daníelsson. Reykjavík: JPV, 2014.
∴ Wyscig z czasem. Translated by Wojciech Lygas. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2014.
∴ Hostage. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. London: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
Davidsstjärnor. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2013.
∴ Davidsstjerner. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2014.
∴ The Chosen. Translated by Marlaine Delargy. London: Simon & Schuster, 2015.
∴ Daviðsstjörnur. Translated by Eyrún Edda Hjörleifsdóttir. Reykjavík: JPV, 2015.
∴ Papierowy chlopiec. Translated by Wojciech Lygas. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2015.
∴ Papierjunge. Translated by Susanne Dahmann. München: Limes, 2016.
Syndafloder. Stockholm: Piratförlaget, 2017.
∴ Syndfloder. Translated by Lilian Kingo. Århus: Modtryk, 2017.
∴ Ostatnia sprawa Fredriki Bergman. Translated by Wojciech Lygas. Warszawa: Prószynski, 2018.
Christina Ohlsson's Askungar (2009) appears in English as Unwanted (2012) – presumably translated by the English writer Sarah Death, though for some reason the U.S. editions don't name a translator. Whoever translated it, Unwanted is a brisk and suspenseful serial-killer story.
Serial-killer novels all present theories of evil, more or less explicitly. In Unwanted, a killer known for most of the novel simply as "The Man" does not seem to be innately evil. He has been violently abused by the grandmother who raised him. This early conditioning warps him in two ways: he violently abuses women (beating and burning them), and he conceives of a vendetta against women who don't love "all" their children: specifically, women who choose abortion but then later go on to bear or adopt children.
Alex Recht's investigative team springs into action when a little girl goes missing from a train in Stockholm. The child's mother had been distracted briefly on a train platform, and a man was seen carrying the girl away. In such cases, Recht realizes from his vast experience as one of Sweden's top cops, the girl's father is always the prime suspect. Said father, estranged from the girl's mother, seems to have vanished. But he'll turn up and the daughter will turn up with him. Won't he?
This self-misdirection proves costly. The father is indeed guiltier than hell of all kinds of stuff, but not of abducting his daughter. While Recht and his mercurial sidekick Peder Rydh are confident of bringing Dad to justice, their more cerebral colleague Fredrika Bergman isn't sure that the father is involved at all.
When the girl is found dead – bizarrely, in Umeå, more than 600 kilometers north of Stockholm – it's clear that a sinister conspiracy, not an impulsive father, is behind the disappearance. Another quickly follows, and the body of this child is found much sooner. An American profiler lends a hand, and the picture of the killer that I've alluded to above develops. A man is enlisting impressionable women in the cause of meting out cosmic justice to women who've dared to have children after earlier abortions. They catch him – well, I've spoiled enough; you can read the details of how. Unwanted is a consistently intriguing thriller.
The personal lives of Recht's team share the focus with police procedure. Recht is happily married for the long haul. But the others are chronically unhappy, and pace Tolstoy, unhappy in the same way. Bergman is in a long-term relationship with a married man she sees unpredictably and infrequently. Rydh is a married man in an unpredictable, infrequent relationship with another woman. Even Ellen Lind, the team's clerical assistant, has started seeing a man unpredictably and infrequently – might he be married?
Eerily, these affairs parallel The Man's relationship with the women he dominates. He too calls the shots in their relationships, and sees the women on his own terms. This leads to one of the more suspenseful sequences in the book (I told you there'd be spoilers). Lind is involved with a man who resembles The Man in his erratic comings and goings, and The Man seems to know what the team will do even before they act. Can Lind be sleeping with you almost know "no" will be the answer, because the device is near-gratuitous, but it gets you worrying.
The internal dynamics of the team are Ohlsson's major theme. The male cops discredit Bergman, partly because she's a woman, partly because she's an academic. She's both too calculating and too emotional. She's human, in other words, but the men ignore the fact that she's got a balance of brains and empathy like their own; they knock her for nerdiness when they want to go with their guts, and for girlishness when they want just the facts, ma'am.
Tusenskönor (2010) gives Alex Recht's Stockholm-based special-investigations team another lethal mystery to solve, and furthers the individual story arcs of its members by another few steps apiece.
In Askungar, the team had foiled a serial killer bent on a particularly lunatic mission. In Tusenskönor, the criminality is saner but no less weird. An elderly clerical couple has died in an apparent murder/suicide pact. Meanwhile, a Middle Eastern man without papers or other means of identification has been killed after being struck by a car. A car which then appears to have backed up and run him over again and a car which turns out to belong to a clerical colleague of the deceased couple.
A truism of procedurals is that if an investigative team gets handed two wildly separate cases, those cases will converge. In Tusenskönor they converge with a vengeance. No good deed goes unpunished in the novel's economy. The elderly couple, Jakob and Marja, used to help at-risk refugees by hiding them in their summer home. One of the refugees had raped one of their daughters, leading to a breakdown in the effort. Worse yet, their colleague Sven had noticed that many refugees arrive in Sweden pretty well-heeled, using their life savings from Syria or Iraq or elsewhere to fund a last-ditch effort at asylum. Why not help them out and turn a profit? Still worse yet, why not turn a profit and turn the desperate refugees into criminals-for-hire?
Can such things be? Anything's possible, but I doubt if there are many church-lady-supported organized-crime rings in Sweden that employ Middle Eastern refugees. Ohlsson's scenario is something of a fantasia. It's interesting to speculate on what that fantasia means, what kind of cultural work it does. The novel gets to be both xenophobic and multiculturally progressive – to portray sympathy for the refugees, who are nonetheless culpable in many a crime, and to displace the larger share of the guilt onto pillars of Swedish society.
Meanwhile, our investigative team continues to struggle on the personal front. Alex Recht seems to be losing contact with his increasingly distant wife. Fredrika Bergman, our main reflector-character, is pregnant with her older, married lover Spencer's child, but finds herself alienated from her family and possibly from Spencer as well. Peder Rydh bitterly regrets leaving his wife and young twin children. There is a new member of the team, Joar Sahlin, highly competent, someone who plays his cards close to his vest – and will turn out to have hit it off with the woman that Peder left his family for, and then lost in turn.
One of the nicer moments in the book comes when Fredrika is quite depressed, failing on all fronts of her complicated life. And then, in the wake of having Spencer meet her parents – an encounter that went OK, but not swimmingly – she just suddenly feels better and full of energy. Ohlsson makes nothing melodramatic of this shift, and it isn't hugely important to the plot. But it struck me as a nice piece of novelistic detail. Sometimes your mood just clears, and you have no idea why. This rarely happens as contingently in fiction as it does in real life.