Written by Anna Jansson, candidate for the Glass Key Award for Best Scandinavian Novel in 2012 for this story involving a pandemic of bird flu on an island off the Swedish coast, Strange Bird will undoubtedly captivate new readers, sweeping them up with the provocative opening chapters, as the action begins on Gotland, a sparsely inhabited island in the Baltic, sixty miles off the coast of Sweden. As the novel opens, Ruben Nilsson, a man in his seventies, has been reminiscing about Angela Stern, the love of his life, though fifty years have passed since he missed his chance to tell her how much he loved her. His only family now is the pigeons he raises and races, and he is surprised when a new pigeon perches on his roof - a foreign bird from Belarus. The next day the bird is dead.
Alternating memories from the past with circumstances in the present, Jansson creates initial scenes in which Ruben Nilsson becomes a kind of everyman, a carpenter with some skills as a mason but little education, less ability to understand how others think and feel, and no ability to understand himself. His neighbor, Berit Hoas, helps him out the next day when he feels ill, feeding his pigeons and providing him with some morels for his supper. She then goes off to work in the cafeteria at a soccer camp for children. Within hours, she, too, is seriously ill. In the meantime, a jogger discovers the body of a man, his throat slit, in a small pup tent at an abandoned farm.
It is not until fifty pages into the novel that the author finally introduces main character Maria Wern, a Detective Inspector with the police who becomes a fully developed and sympathetic character, far different from the usual alcoholic loner so common to Nordic noir. Her life, presented so naturally that she feels "familiar" to the reader from the outset, makes the challenges she faces with this case even more intense and personal than one would expect.
Soon dozens of people are sick or dead. The action keeps going and going and going, with one surprise after another as many more characters and plot complexities involve the reader. The hospital has set up an observation ward and keeps sick people isolated. The children at soccer camp are quarantined, and those who develop flu are transported elsewhere. The shortage of Tamiflu, is kept a secret from the population, and the availability of some medications on the internet - for a large fee - highlights "entrepreneurs" who are willing to exploit life-or-death emergencies for big profit. The medieval history of the island contributes to the morbid atmosphere with tales of the Black Death which occurred there. Additional murders occur.
Although the novel has a few too many complications and characters within a story that is already inherently terrifying, the author does keep the interest high and the tempo of the novel moving quickly. Her unusually good characterizations of people who are fairly "typical," rather than unique in oddball ways, makes them memorable - people the reader feels s/he can "know." With this strong start in the Maria Wern series, it is easy to imagine a long series of successful new Scandinavian crime novels from this intriguing author and unusual publisher.
on 5 December 2013
Like the novels of Mari Jungstedt,this thriller is set on the Swedish island
When two people die after coming in contact with pigeons,it becomes clear that
there is a pandemic spreading around the island.The novel adriotly portrays
the fear of the population and their behaviour as the medics and authorities
endeavour to minimise the spread of the disease.
D.I.Marie Wern,whose own son is in quarentine,has her worrk cut out when there
is evidence that the pandemic was criminally motivated.
A well-written thriller with an unusual theme,weakened slightly by an over-rushed