Some years back, I went through quite a phase of reading Swedish crime novels. If I can recall the chronology correctly, it started when I came across a copy of Henning Mankell’s second Wallander book, “The Dogs of Riga”, in a charity shop and liked the sound of it. I was pretty quickly hooked by the combination of great characters and plotting, and started to explore the other titles. Then OH treated me that Christmas to a lovely matching paperback set of the Martin Beck novels – a series of ten volumes written by the husband and wife team of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, which I reckon are the progenitors of the current glut of Scandinavian crime, and are probably the best. I loved these to bits, and was interested to see that Mankell wrote the introduction to one volume, kind of acknowledging his debt to these books.

To date I’ve read all the Becks, all the Wallanders and all the Inspector Irene Huss titles by Helene Tursten that have been translated so far. However, the craze for all things Swedish crime started to pall for me a little around the time of “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”. I found the book nasty and infuriating – the violence was just too graphic and horrible, and the book overlong and severely in need of editing. I personally felt that if it had concentrated on the mystery alone it would have been a better book, but for whatever reason Larsson stuffed it with the politics and the business and the abuse of Lisbeth Salander and I struggled to the end and didn’t even bother with the other two books. In fact *whispers* I didn’t like Salander at all, or find her at all believable. I tried a Jo Nesbo and gave up on that also, as the violence against women was so sick and extreme I just couldn’t take it.

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So I guess I had pretty much given up on Scandinavian crime until I read about the latest new names on the block, Cilla and Rolf Börjlind. They have a bit of a pedigree as their press blurb reveals:

Cilla and Rolf Börjlind are not only Sweden’s most praised script writers for crime and thrillers, they are also bestselling authors. Their books are characterized by charismatic characters and the stories depict Sweden, full of social conflicts. The routine from script writing is reflected in the ability to create tension and twisted plots. Everything is tied together, elegantly and sometimes surprisingly. In the Börjlind world people are driven by a passion for social justice. Another characteristic is the typical Börjlind surrealistic humor. The couple have written 26 Martin Beck films for movie theater and TV and most recently the manuscripts for the Arne Dahl’s A-group series. In 2004 and 2009 Swedish television showed their long crime series The Grave and The Murders, written directly for SVT. The series became an immediate successes, among the critics as well as with the audience.

It was probably the mention of Martin Beck that caught my eye initially, but the fact that Hesperus Press are publishing the book too attracted my attention, and I was pleased that they were offering proof copies through their Hesperus Book Club blog so I could get an early look at the new crime thriller.

“Spring Tide” is the first book in a new series and opens with a fairly grim murder of a pregnant woman on a beach in 1987 (I skipped through that a bit…) Cutting to present-day Sweden, there has been a spate of attacks on homeless people, which are filmed and put up online. Two seemingly unrelated events – but are they? We then meet Olivia Rönning, a student police officer, who is following in her late father’s footsteps. As term at police college ends for the summer, the students are invited to study a cold case over the holidays and Olivia picks the unsolved beach murder, as her father worked on it. It’s a particularly difficult case to study, as most of the people involved seem to have disappeared, particularly the officer who was investigating, one Tom Stilton. Olivia is intrigued by the case and visits the beach and the area where the murder took place – and soon starts to run into difficulties. She starts to pick away at the past, trying to track down people related to the case, and starts to dig up stuff that shouldn’t be disturbed. In the meantime, more homeless people are attacked, there are criminal shenanigans in the halls of big business, there is some mysterious and nasty fighting going on among youngsters, Olivia and her cat Elvis come under threat and a whole wonderful cast of characters take part in an absorbing, clever, involving mystery.

That’s just a light sketch of the story, because I would hate to spoil it for anyone. As you might have picked up, I *loved* this book to pieces and it’s really rekindled my faith in Swedish crime novels! Olivia is a believable. likeable heroine – a bit damaged, a bit solitary, reasonably tough but human instead of superhuman: at one point, when she is being threatened, the authors quite knowingly point out that she is no Lisbeth Salander! But although she is the main protagonist, the rest of the characters are strong and well-drawn, particularly the elusive and also damaged Tom Stilton, who doesn’t reveal himself until well into the book. Then there is Bertil Magnuson, the big cheese in MWM, a company with very dodgy corporate policies; Nils Wendt, his late partner; Detective superintendent Mette Olsater and her wonderfully colourful and lovable family; Eva Carlsen, a bitter investigative journalist; Jackie Berglund, who has a raunchy history but manages to keep her salacious clientele secret and satisfied; One-Eyed Vera, Arvo Part and Jelle, plus their homeless companions; Mink the ‘tightrope walker’ and Abbas the knifeman; and Ovette and her young son Acke. This is what I love in crime novels, an ensemble cast, of which I hope many will turn up in future books.

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The writing of “Spring Tide” is excellent – it’s so well plotted, full of twists and turns I didn’t see coming at all (which is lovely for an old hand like me – I get fed of anticipating the twists in books!). The are numerous plot strands and you just know that the authors will pull them all together, but you can’t possibly see how and it’s majorly impressive when they do. I was wrong-footed on several occasions and their audacity had me laughing and gasping out loud.

Are the influenced by the authors that have come before them? In a way, it’s slightly insulting to even consider this as there’s such skill and good writing in this book. But I can see slight shadows of the authors of Beck and Wallander here and there – the ensemble cast, the damaged detective, the wider political and business context. However, this never detracts from the book’s originality, and in many ways they handle certain factors better than say Mankell does – I often though his external elements and the foreign influences were ever-so-slightly fantastic. But the Börjlinds share Sjöwall/Wahlöö and Mankell’s concern for Sweden and the way that society has corrupted and deteriorated. They and their characters *do* have a strong concern for social justice and it’s reflected in this book.

I galloped through this book faster than I’ve read a new book for a long time, gripped by the action and involved with the fate of the various characters, really desperate to get to the solution – which is the mark of any good thriller! I have to add the small caveat about the murders in modern novels – they have become increasingly nasty and the one here *is* pretty unpleasant. I guess the books are reflecting the modern world, but I just feel that books don’t have to be quite so graphic about things to make the point that rotten criminals are about and need to be caught. Having said that, ST’s graphic stuff is considerably less than most recent crime novels I’ve veered away from, so that’s something.

When I looked up the Börjlinds online, I was delighted to find out this is the first book in a series about Olivia Rönning and Tom Stilton, and frankly I can’t wait for the next as I sensed several loose ends that may need to be tied up. I’m so pleased that I was able to receive a review copy of this book as I personally think it’s *whispers* better than “Dragon Tattoo” by miles! I’m pleased to have made the acquaintance of Olivia, Tom and their friends and colleagues and friends – roll on the next book!

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