Written by Mari Jungstedt, translated by Tiina Nunnally — While on a photoshoot for a top fashion magazine on the beautiful Swedish island of Gotland, the chief photographer Markus Sandberg is found in his cabin within an inch of death. He has been brutally attacked with an axe. It’s his girlfriend Jenny Levin who has discovered him and she’s one of Europe’s top models. Sandberg survives, but is in intensive care and his future is uncertain. The case is investigated by Detective Anders Knutas and his team.
Meanwhile we meet another young woman who, in contrast to Jenny Levin, is in a bad place. Agnes Karlström was a model. Discovered as a schoolgirl she was destined for greatness, but she put on too much weight for the designers, agents and photographers. Unable to cope with the roller-coaster of fame, she turned anorexic to put her career back on track. Hollow-eyed, skeletal and a caricature of her former self, she resides in a hospital for people with eating disorders.
Back in the world of the fashionistas there’s another attack, this time on the boss of the top agency Fashion For Life. It’s not a botched job this time and Robert Ek is very, very dead. Knutas and his colleagues have no clues, despite the welter of blood and gore at both crime scenes. Jenny Levin is suspected briefly, but suddenly Knutas recognises that the anonymous letters sent about the killings have a distinctive and revealing similarity. At this point, the very different life outcomes of Jenny and Agnes begin to intersect as the story moves towards a dramatic climax.
There are two short chapters at the beginning of the book which are baffling. In the first, an un-named woman has a bizarre episode involving dead pigeons on the streets of Milan. I can only assume that the woman is Jenny, but quite what the significance of those opening two pages is, I have no idea. In the second chapter, an equally anonymous man walks into the lobby of a Stockholm hotel, nods to the doorman, and continues into the building. A couple of paragraphs later, he leaves the hotel, with no further reference in the book. Clearly I missed something – that or the book has an obscure opening.
The most compelling part of The Dangerous Game for me is the excruciating detail of the torment faced by Agnes in her hospital room. On occasions it’s almost too heartbreaking. It’s not the writer’s duty, either in crime fiction or in any other genre, to make us feel good about ourselves and our fellow humans. Rather, we want the author to shed light on aspects of the world that help us see things in a different way. In this case Jungstedt, fine writer that she is, shone her torch rather too unmercifully for my taste. This is a bleak and black read, with one or two moments which might have given Thomas Hardy – the master of fateful coincidences – pause for thought. Fans of doom laden Scandinavian fiction may well love it but, well written as it was, I wanted to reach out for something more life affirming.
CFL Rating: 4 Stars