A second English translation from yet another Scandinavian author, Professor Ake Edwardson. This series features Chief Inspector Erik Winter, who features in 12 books. This time around, Winter must investigate a harrowing case in the midst of a sweltering Gothenburg summer. A nineteen year old girl is raped while walking home from a night out with friends. She missed the last tram, so decided to cut through the park on foot, a decision with awful consequences. Shortly after, a second rape ends in murder, and the cases seem connected. Now, Winter's memory is jogged to five years earlier, when an identical crime took place - a rape and murder - in exactly the same location. That crime went unsolved - has the same culprit started again? Exactly which of the cases are connected, if any are at all? Haunted by the idea that this might be a second chance to catch an old killer, Winter delves into the lives of three young women, and a host of suspects. A father whose behaving oddly, a spurned ex boyfriend, a clutch of schoolfriends, and even a surviving victim behaving uncooperatively and difficultly.
I don't know exactly where this entry falls in the Winter series, but it follows on from last year's debut translation, Sun and Shadow. The two stand up against each other very well, though this second novel is not quite as good as that first. (Edwardson has won the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy Prize three times, though not for either of these novels). The main flaw of the first was Edwardson's somewhat sketchy plotting, which made a very dark, original story something slightly less than it should have been. Very good, still, but a less than it could have been. Pleasingly, that problem isn't present here: Never End is plotted really well, and the plot itself, which could have been nothing particularly original, is given a nice little twist from the potential five-year gap in a killer/rapists activity, and the intriguing possible links between the cases. Edwardson escapes that trap here, then. Winter, too, is as good to read about as he was in the last book, and so is his troop of police officers. His personal life and his relationship with his wife Angela, now that he is a new father, develops very nicely here. Edwardson depicts his characters well, and the case is interesting, suspenseful, and full of a host of characters behaving oddly, more than enough to keep suspicious, curious readers happy. The tone, too, is dark.
I admire Edwardson's pleasingly un-American attitude to crime fiction. His crime novels are slower, more considered affairs; he turns away from violence, from unnecessary action, concentrates on character, seems to take more concern with constructing a good, rounded book rather than just a quick story. This showed through in the first translation, and does so again here. So, all the elements of a great crime novel seem present and correct, yes? But, didn't I say this was the lesser of the two novels so far? Indeed I did - for despite the flaws rectified on this showing, Never End is passionless. And that's its main problem. And it's a big one. The book is dark, but cold, and the writing isn't alive. It's almost exemplary in everything but this most intangible, but crucial of ways. There's little fire in the prose or the plot, and that's why this novel is a lot harder to truly enjoy than it should be. I can forgive almost everything - as I do the plotting flaws in the first novel - except the absence of that vital spark. It could be the translation, but Laurie Thompson has produced a raft of excellent translation in the past, so it's hard to believe the problem lies there. I hope other translations will reveal a book with the strengths of the previous two and none of the flaws. It seems Edwardson is capable of it (look at his record), so all we've to do is wait. Until next year, hopefully.