The Man Who Watched Women

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Hjorth Rosenfeldt The Man Who Watched WomenWritten by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt, translated by Marlaine Delargy — In this suspenseful serial killer thriller, Stockholm is beset by a heatwave and a series of brutal killings of young women. The national police homicide unit, Riksmord, realises early on that the ritualistic killings are copycat crimes. They mirror perfectly the macabre handiwork of Edward Hinde, who was locked up 15 years ago with the help of expert profiler Sebastian Bergen. Is Hinde somehow orchestrating the murders from the inside? We learn early on that Hinde is indeed communicating, via a contraband modem, to an unknown devotee, who has deep-seated Mommy issues and follows orders without question.

The homicide team considers bringing back Sebastian Bergman, who was instrumental in nabbing Hinde, but who is a notoriously difficult maverick. When we first encounter Bergman, he is a troubled soul who is a shadow of his former self. He hasn’t published a single professional paper in a decade and loses himself in alcohol and one-night stands. The arrogant, self-destructive womaniser harbours a burden of deep grief from losing his wife and child in a tsunami. It is no surprise when he obsessively stalks his newfound daughter, born out of wedlock, who happens to be an accomplished detective herself and member of Riksmord.

Bergen recruits another former member of the team, ex-cop Trolle Hermansson – a corrupt, muckraker with a nose for dirt – to dig up information to discredit his daughter’s adoptive father. We learn more about that development as the team reluctantly recruits Bergman to help nab the killer before he strikes again.

As Bergman struggles with his personal life, former student and counselor Stefan convinces him to attend therapy. A woman he meets at the session, whom he sleeps with that night, winds up as the next murder victim the following morning. When he rejoins the crime squad, he realises the copycat is not only being controlled by Hinde, but that all the murders link to Bergman himself. Hinde, the master manipulator, wraps the new governor of Lövhaga Prison around his finger and uses him as a tool for his own master plan.

Bergman is forced to seek out all the women he’s been with in the past. Worse still he suspects that Hinde knows about his family secrets. Although he is finally back in his element, Bergman also feels separated from what he cares for most. As he faces an inevitable showdown with Hinde, who escapes from prison, he plunges into an all-or-nothing gambit – one of protecting those he loves and redeeming himself.

The Man Who Watched Women was penned by Scandicrime stalwarts Michael Hjorth (highly regarded crime drama writer of Wallander television episodes) and Hans Rosenfeldt (co-creator of The Bridge). Like Cilla and Rolf Börjlind, Hjorth and Rosenfeldt’s scriptwriting chops are evident here in the fluid plot development and tightly interlocked, suspense-building episodes. There are some appealing supporting characters here too: tough but compassionate Chief Inspector Torkel Höglund, competent but conflicted Ursula Andersson, unyielding top gun Vanja Lithner, and young and eager tech expert Billy Rósen.

On the plus side, this book, which is the second part of a series, moves like a well-paced TV crime drama, and indeed, some may have seen the adaptations of the series starring Rolf Lassgård. On the downside, Hjorth and Rosenfeldt’s heavy-handed style devotes inordinate detail to the angst of the characters, especially Bergman and the murderer. We are continually force-fed character motivation during the 500+ page thriller, leaving little to the imagination that might be more effectively expressed through action alone.

The Man Who Watched Women is fluidly told, engrossing, and above all, entertaining, so it’s easy to forgive its ready-made characters and all-caps emotional emphasis.

We reviewed the novel Sebastian Bergman here. For more Swedish crime fiction click here.


CFL Rating: 3 Stars

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