Another excellent offering from the newest addition to the Scandinavian crime stable following up on her exceptional debut novel 'Unwanted'. The plot, set in Sweden, centres on the currently prevalent topic of immigration with the murders of Jakob Ahlbin, a prominent supporter of immigrants rights and his wife Marja, with the story spiralling out to include an insightful addressing of the dangers facing immigrants in their passage to a new country and a better life. Ohlsson concisely exposes the issues from both sides of the arguments through the voices of her characters and weaves an utterly realistic and engrossing portrayal of not only the political and social implications of this thorny issue, but the inherent dangers to those involved in this field of work. With the dynamics of family loyalty and the tests of friendships woven into the main plot, the reader becomes totally bound up in this gripping thriller as people continually reveal that they are not as they appear to be with the skilful use of double-crossing and dark tension throughout.
What I particularly admire in Ohlsson's work is her innate skill at characterisation and how she so effectively draws the readers into the lives of her main protagonists. In `Silenced' the character of Fredrika Bergman, still working with the police, spirals out as a new aspect is added to her character with the impending birth of her first child by her much older married lover of some years standing. There is a wonderfully drawn scene with Fredrika bowing to parental pressure and having to introduce Spencer to them over dinner with all the awkwardness and embarrassment of bringing home your first boyfriend/girlfriend as a teenager. On a more serious note, we get an accurate portrayal of an extremely focused and intuitive woman balancing the demands of the personal and the professional whose critical thinking always adds exponentially to the course of the investigation. Ohlsson's skill is not limited just to her female characterisation as we follow the continuing path to self-destruction through Fredrika's wonderfully tactless colleague Peder Rydh whose marriage has now deteriorated completely and whose lover has left him. Added to this is his conflict with a new member of the investigative team Joar Sahlin for reasons that I won't spoil here and Peder's steep path back to acceptance and reconciliation that the book takes us on. Alex Recht, the head of the investigative team is also subject to a heartrending and all too human story line throughout the course of a book whilst retaining his clear-headed and professional demeanour in the solving of this tricky investigation so this again adds another facet to Ohlsson's consummate skill at characterisation.
An extremely engaging read all round and yet another example of why the Scandinavian crime scene is producing such a fine body of work for crime fiction fans. Long may it continue...
The cover of Silenced has a sticker on it that boldly proclaims "For fans of The Killing". I've seen the television series and now that I've read the book, and had a good think about it, I'm inclined to agree. Both stories feature strong heroines who are outwardly tough but also exhibit an emotionally fragility. There are other similarities as well - both cover events in real time and focus quite heavily on the procedural components.
Ohlsson spends the time fleshing out the character of the various investigators. I particularly liked Peder Rydh specifically because he almost like a petulant child trapped in a grown-up's body, good at police work but a spectacular failure at almost everything else. Nice to find a character in a novel that has such obvious failings. He is not prefect by any stretch of the imagination, is jealous of colleagues, throws the occasional strop and his attitude towards female co-workers is terrible. That said, all these faults make him all the more interesting to read. As the plot unfolds you get to learn exactly what makes all the team tick and there is valuable insight into their home lives. These aren't just police men and women, they are people too. It's probably fair comment that some may find this depth of detail too much or potentially distracting, but personally I felt it gave the story much needed human element. It helps to better understand various character motivations and makes them all seem that much more real.
Like the other experiences I've had with Scandinavian literature, Silenced starts off very small but quickly builds into something that manages to be thoroughly engrossing. I can understand why literature from this part of the world is gaining popularity here in the United Kingdom, I've not read a bad example yet. The likes of The Killing and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo have become a bona fide cultural phenomena and I don't see why Silenced can't follow suit. I'd certainly be interested in reading more novels featuring the same characters.
Ohlsson also manages to blend in elements from the political thriller genre into the mix. There are key scenes that take place abroad and some subtle social commentary regarding Swedish immigration policy. There are hints dotted throughout the narrative that there is something much larger going on and that the crimes are the tip of the iceberg but it is only toward the end of the story that all is revealed. These unexpected but welcome inclusions help to strengthen an already intriguing story. The skillful way that the seemingly disparate story threads eventually begin to weave together is very effective, and works well. The final revelations lead to a satisfying twisted conclusion.
If you like the sound of Silenced you may be interested to know that I've just had a little rummage around on Amazon and it appears Kristina Olhsson already has another title released, Unwanted. This is a prequel to the events in Silenced and features some of the same characters. I think I may have to add it to my to read list.
on 6 April 2014
This book is a little better than Unwanted but only because KO has tried to be a little more adventurous and imaginative. Other reviewers have already given a synopsis of the novel so I will give my reasons for not being too impressed. For a special pólice unit the officers seem none too bright and prefer to take the obvious answer to any question put to them. The Thailand connection implies something bigger and more sinister than turns out to be the case. Were I a Swedish national I would be appalled at the treatment given to the poor woman by the embassy official in Bangkok. The characters in the unit are too easily distracted by their personal lives, even Alex Recht, "the legend", as he was described in Unwanted. In modern crime fiction background information of the main characters seems to have become more important than the plot, KO seems to be taking this to Patricia Cornwell levels. Not one of the team has the home life of our own dear Wycliffe, Barnaby, Thanet et al. I have read that a film production company has secured the rights for the three novels. Perhaps KO can now concéntrate on writing scripts for a daytime tv soap. KO could do so much better. I shall read the next book and just hope that the unit has either been disbanded or that the three stars have come to their senses.
on 14 November 2012
Well written especially in the unraveling plot that is deftly kept together; always leaving the reader's knowledge blurred so as one is unable to bring the plot into sharp focus.
As in the earlier book the humanity of the detective team is portrayed, their efforts are all consuming, but could they have done more?
The novel stays true to this modern reality. Unlike a keen ear,or magnifying glass to upturn that strategic clue, the reality is all about questioning the right people, hoping the witnesses disclose the truth and waiting for the case to break.
One of the strengths of this writing lies in the well drawn relationships that are explored between the characters especially of the detectives. As in real life no-one is fully the person they present; the facade is misinterpreted by some and family secrets are often taken to the grave.
I really enjoyed this book and its pace that builds as you find yourself enjoying the read along the way but keen to find the solution.
This is a clever murder mystery which cements Kristina Ohlsson's place as a talented writer of this genre.
on 24 August 2014
This is the second book by this author I have read. It is well written, the tension grips you from the start and builds to a dramatic finish and it all makes for a satisfying read. Once again the spoiler was a complicated plot that really lacked credibility because it required too many players behaving in a way which was contrived to fit the story, rather than with any authenticity. But then the idea of a novel is to push boundaries. This did that and deserves its success.
on 8 September 2012
'Silenced'features the small federal investigation unit based in
Stockholm,and is the second novel in a series.It is a splendid,
rich and enjoyable police procedural mystery.
The unit is dealing with two deaths,a man of Asian descent,killed
in a hit and run,and the seeming suicide of a clergyman,who was
active in the cause of refugees in Sweden.As the investigation
proceeds,whilst a possible link is found between the deaths,
neither the reader nor the unit are any the wiser whether the
deaths are related to illegal immigration or to an old family
feud,until the novel's final pages.
Aside from the skilful plotting,the characters of the four main
investigators in the unit are engagingly described,as they try
to place their personal issues on hold in order to focus on the
This is an excellent read,and makes future novels from this
author ,ones to watch out for.
on 18 March 2015
I enjoyed this almost as much as the first. The only reason this was a teeny bit less enjoyable for me was the complexity of the myriad plot lines. This is possibly in part because I like to read at bedtime, who knows. The development of the main characters was very good, I do like how the author keeps a little space between them so we see them more fully as individuals with their own part to play. This is refreshingly different from most work in this genre that I have read. The characters are very human, their own lives complex, they all have input and resolution. I will definitely look forward to reading the next in the series or more by this author.
It’s February 2008. Alex Recht’s Criminal Investigation Unit has been thrown two new cases. The first appears to be a straight up murder-suicide – the Reverend Jakob Ahlbin was known to have mental health issues and it appears that the news of his daughter’s death tipped him over the edge. The second is an obvious hit and run, but the victim has no ID and has not been reported missing. Alex assigns the very pregnant Fredrika Bergman to the hit and run, while he runs the murder-suicide with Peder Rydh and newcomer Joar Sahkin (who’s on loan from the environmental investigation unit). But it isn’t too long before both teams realise that nothing about their cases is as it seems and that there are links between the two that go back to another, unreported crime that occurred 15 years earlier, a crime that was hushed up but with a victim determined to no longer be silenced …
The second in Kristina Ohlsson’s BERGMAN & RECHT SERIES (translated by Sarah Death) is a slick crime thriller that nevertheless didn’t quite pull together the threads enough to provide a satisfying ending. I hadn’t read the first in the series, but Ohlsson provides enough information so that it isn’t necessary to do so (although it would perhaps help in explaining some of the relationships – notably Fredrika’s role within the team and the tensions it’s created). Ohlsson’s got an easy style and I enjoyed the first two-thirds of the book and the way she ties the different plot lines together, utilising different points of view to provide information but leave enough mystery to keep the reader interested. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that there was enough of a pay-off to the different mysteries – in particular the revelation of the antagonist and their motivation was somewhat vague and I wasn’t completely convinced by the explanation for how it was all pulled together or why. I also felt that the storyline involving Alex’s relationship with his wife and his growing concern that his wife is keeping secret wasn’t developed enough on page to have the impact it was clearly intended to have, which is a shame because there was a lot of potential there. All in all, while this book didn’t quite come good for me, there was enough here to make me interested in checking out the rest of this series and Ohlsson’s other work.
Review copy from publisher.
Even within the ranks of Scandinavian crime procedural novels, the investigators in a unit charged with solving unusual and difficult murders around Detective Superintendent Alex Recht are a psychologically-damaged lot. This 2010 novel, translated by Sarah Death [congratulations to Simon & Schuster UK for describing her background together with that of the author], is an excellent example of the genre.
Recht himself has marital problems, DI Peder Rydh has walked out on his family and has workplace equality and anger management issues, civilian Investigative Analyst Frederika Bergman is expecting a baby at any time with her married but aged lover, Franklin Lagergren, and Joar Sahlin, temporarily seconded to the team as p/t cover for Frederika, is not easy to warm to and he may be gay…… Moreover, Frederika was a promising violinist until she seriously damaged her arm in an accident that killed her mother and Peder has a mentally-disabled brother.
The prelude describes an unreported attack on a young girl on Midsummer’s Eve, 1993, whilst the early chapters describe the killing/suicide of a charismatic priest and his wife in their Stockholm flat, an unidentified man killed in a hit-and-run accident, a young Swedish woman in trouble in Bangkok and the arrival of a young Iraqi illegal immigrant in Sweden. The events of these story are followed over less than a fortnight in February-March, 2008.
In over 450 pages the personal problems of the police team are eventually revealed and dealt with, although that of Recht and his wife is agonisingly drawn out since, in contrast to his police work, he avoids facing a difficult issue. Peder’s dramatic change of attitude and behavior in the later part of the book also seemed somewhat unlikely. The interactions, mistrusts and misconceptions within the police team are nicely drawn as is Recht’s constant worry about Frederika’s health and how best to get the best out of his team, whose future is under consideration. Sahlin and Peder offer an enjoyable foil to one another.
There are a bevy of additional characters, priests, daughters, a scarred policeman, several drug addicts and the plotting includes additional murders, identity theft, Right-wing extremists, robberies, people-trafficking and other misdemeanors. There are a great many twists and, as one might expect, the social and moral issues of the stories are all realistically presented.
Since the author describes the backgrounds of the central characters, the book may be read as a stand-alone and the ending of the book describes three significant events that will, no doubt, affect the relevant characters in the next book.
The plot is complex and unbelievable but the writing, and the excellent English translation, fully engages the reader. There are some memorable scenes, a tense dinner where Franklin, Frederika and her family get to know one another [rather difficult since he has no intention of leaving his wife of over 30 years], Peder’s attitude toward the Head of HR and the compulsory gender awareness course that he is subsequently sent on, and the tense interactions of members of the team during formal and informal interviews. The storyline in Bangkok seems less well grounded and the likelihood of a people trafficker risking all to help a stranded European woman seemed unlikely.
Peder comes across as the most complex character – for his outrageous behavior, utter selfishness, competitive instincts and caring attitude to his brother. Once again it was difficult to understand the attraction between Frederika and Franklin, whilst for a very savvy investigator, she seemed to have little idea of what raising a child largely on her own would involve.
Ohlsson’s background as a Security Policy Analyst for the Swedish Police Board and at the Ministry for Foreign Affairs is evident in the detail that she presents and, despite the overly-complex storyline and rather too-tidy confessional scene, this is a very enjoyable read.
on 6 March 2015
Better than the first book. Interesting character development of the police team involved. While one appreciates the story deals with a psychotic, you do wonder what would drive someone to the meticulous killing spree this contains. And while the identity theft of the character in Bangkok is plausible in some ways you kind of feel a mere paper copy of your passport would resolve the situation! For all that it's an entertaining read. This is the better end of Swedish noir and it's the personal issues of the cops that kept me hooked as much as anything.