Crime Fiction

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The Wolf and the Watchman

Gritty realism in 18th Century Stockholm...
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The Wolf and the Watchman is a historical mystery, set in 18th Century Sweden. Written by Niklas Natt och Dag it was voted the Best Debut Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers in 2017.

Mikel Cardell is the watchman of the title who has returned home from war a cripple, having lost an arm. He discovers the torso of a sightless, blond young man drifting in the sea on the shoreline of Stockholm and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to him. The case is handed to the Director of Prosecution for the city, Cecil Winge, and together they set out to investigate. Winge is dying from consumption but is determined to avenge the victim by finding whoever is guilty of the murder. Piecing together the clues takes the men from the brutal world of Stockholm’s slums to the highest levels of society before they find the murderer and the man who ordered the killing.

This is a book that polarised opinion in our book group. The split was roughly 50:50 between those who enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down, and those who had found it almost unreadable.

Oxo was one of the people who enjoyed it:
‘It’s a very sombre tale of cruelty and corruption and I had to force myself to read some of the more gruesome sections. But the story was so well-drawn, and the motivation of the dying prosecutor and a simple former soldier to solve this horrific crime was so thought-provoking, that I found myself thinking about this book for days after I had finished reading it. It may not be for the fainthearted but the detailed detective work between the extreme poverty and wealth of the city makes this a very unusual tale. I have to give it 5-Stars.’

Calendar Girl was also positive:
I liked the setting [1793 Stockholm] even though it was so grim. The dirt, drunkenness, filth, poverty, disease and cynicism were unsettling but the atmosphere and characters made the story compelling. I give this 4-Stars.

Bunny was another who enjoyed it:
‘This was a highly enjoyable book. It’s written in four parts, beginning with the discovery of a dismembered torso with head, and it graphically depicts the harshness of life during this period of history. I liked the fact the story has two ‘heroes’ [Cardell and Winge] and although the ending is neat – and possibly predictable – happy endings are what I like. I give it 4-Stars.’

At the opposite end of the scale, Freyja, Clover and Cornish Eskimo all found the book very difficult to read and gave it a low score (a minus rating in one case). The discussion we had at our meeting was lively but at the end we all had to agree that you never can tell who will like what! This book pulled extreme responses from everyone who read it. And whether or not people enjoyed it, it was certainly thought-provoking.

If you enjoy reading crime fiction you're welcome to drop in to one of our meetings at Oundle Library on the third Friday of each month at 2.30pm. We don't have a set reading list, so our discussions are wide ranging and fun.