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Pre-school reunion gone bad
on 30 November 2012
I have read a few Scandinavian crime thrillers now, hooked in by Stieg Larsson. This story begins back in 1968 in a pre-school housed in an attractive building on top of a hill, surrounded by pine trees. However, within this idyllic setting an unpleasant regime of bullying is allowed to flourish: group dynamics and an uncaring teacher allow the brutal victimisation of two unfortunate children by their six-year-old classmates - children who, in the UK, would be in their second year of primary school.
In a different part of Sweden, in 2006, a murder occurs. Chief Inspector Conny Sjoberg, of the Violent Crimes Unit in Hammarby, Stockholm, leads the investigation. Rebus he is not - he is a happily married father of five who plays by the rules and gets on well with all his colleagues. After three more murders in other parts of the country he realises a serial killer may be responsible.
A fascinating portrayal of life in Sweden, Stockholm in particular, is presented to the reader. The Scandinavian character: understated and sometimes lacking in emotion, is described, along with the autumn weather and atmosphere. We experience family life - and lack of it in some cases, and are allowed to sample the food: unfamiliar (moose steak); tantalising (family meals prepared by Conny and his children), and unappealing: (burnt pork schnitzel with noodles).
We are also educated about the Middle East conflict and, in a sub-plot, encounter the use of Rohypnol, known as the 'date-rape' drug.
Throughout the book we read 'The Diary of a Murderer', which gives us insight into the reasons behind these gruesome killings.
The prose and dialogue often seem stilted - not unusual in books which have been translated from one language to another - and the language is American English. Also there is a somewhat implausible aspect to the resolution. Nonetheless I enjoyed this book and did not find the ending altogether predictable. I will try ro find time to read the remaining titles in the series.
After reading this, maybe any of us who ever participated in bullying as a child - and who didn't to some degree? - will wonder what the consequences have been, and hope that things have improved for today's children.