Written by Anna Jansson — Welcome to the pretty medieval town of Visby on the island of Gotland in the Baltic Sea. Full-time population: 20,000. Number of summer visitors: 800,000. The perfect place to celebrate Swedish Midsummer, getting away from it all. Or, the perfect place to commit a murder and get away with it?
Killer’s Island introduces the feisty detective Maria Wern. On her way home from an evening out, she intervenes to rescue a young boy who is being beaten up by a gang. In return for her efforts, she herself is beaten and stabbed with a syringe filled with blood, thus spending much of the rest of the book worrying about whether or not she has caught HIV. The same gang also assaults a tired, insomniac nurse, Linn Bogren, who is facing personal and professional turmoil and dilemmas of her own. Linn is saved on this occasion by the timely intervention of her neighbour Harry, but not long afterwards she is found dead, bloodless, dressed in white, with a bridal bouquet of lilies of the valley in her hand. Someone is trying to draw attention to the myth of the White Lady of the Sea, who was said to lure men to their doom in the dark undercurrents surrounding Gotland.
Maria and her colleagues at Visby Police Station, including her depressed boyfriend Per and her best friend, forensic scientist Erika, are confronted with further attacks and murders. The case grows more and more complex, and the only link between these apparently unrelated crimes seems to be Erika’s new lover, Dr Anders Ahlstrӧm. But how can such a compassionate man, who always finds time to listen to his patients and is such a loving single dad to his 11-year-old daughter, be involved in such a sordid series of murders?
The story turns into a race against time and it becomes clear that the detectives themselves are being closely observed by a highly intelligent and manipulative killer, able to provoke and tease the police through superior computing skills.
Anna Jansson is well-known throughout Scandinavia and Germany. This is her 13th crime novel set in Gotland, although it’s only the first one to be translated into English. Several of the stories have been adapted for TV as the Maria Wern series. The author is also a practising nurse so, unsurprisingly, both characters and clues connected to the medical profession feature quite prominently.
Killer’s Island is a police procedural that offers more than a passing glimpse at the private lives and thoughts of members of the investigating team. The characters are well-rounded, although often depressed and illogical. The storyline flows well, despite the short scenes and rapid shifts of viewpoint, building up to a dramatic climax on the beach. Overall, this is isn’t as bleak as the typical Scandinavian fare, so perhaps a good alternative for those who prefer their crime fiction less graphic. Jansson’s work is similar to Camilla Läckberg’s mix of horror and cosy crime fiction, and she provides an accurate depiction of the claustrophobia of small-town living.
If this sounds interesting, you may also want to read The Dead of Summer by Mari Jungstedt, also currently available from Stockholm Text. It too is set in Visby, Gotland.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars