Pensioners Carl Bergman, Efraim Nylander, and Johan Lundgren meet weekly to discuss detective fiction ranging from Queen and Carr and their GAD brethren to the more modern Highsmith and Bingham. Each takes it in turn to present the details of a book which the other two must then attempt to solve.
This week Carl deviates from the usual formula by introducing a real-life case that has just taken place in their small town. The details have been provided by his police sergeant son, Gunnar. As they start to discuss what has happened they realise they are dealing with a locked room mystery!
“We looked at each other, amazed and dumbfounded. It reminded me of one Christmas Eve when, as a child, I looked in disbelief at a set of tin soldiers I had dreamed about but never dared hope for.”
During the evening they draw a number of conclusions from the evidence and go so far as to reconnoitre the crime scene to put some of them to the test. Satisfied with their good work, Johan writes up their findings and sends them to Bergman Jr.
He is not at all impressed with their ideas or interference and presents an account of the official investigation. Though some of the police work is lackadaisical, he believes that he has cracked the case.
And yet it is only when we move onto a third narrator that the truth is fully revealed.
I bought this particular LRI title because of the book group discussion element and I have said before that I love this style of mystery. Lundgren is an unintentionally comic narrator and the police sergeant’s narrative reveals some deliberate gaps in the former’s report and had me laughing out loud with a delayed punchline for at least half the book. Gunnar’s account is deliberately comic in tone, although his attempts to be a Chandleresque cynical hardman are somewhat undermined by domestic incidents that will strike a chord with parents everywhere.
I thought I was getting towards a solution, but whether this was a deliberate deception or I was being too clever for my own good I’m not sure. The solution is very clever, although almost all readers would struggle to solve it fully themselves.
That however did not matter to me. This is both homage and a Berkeleyian style send-up of the Golden Age Mystery with references such as:
“I won’t burden you with detailed timetables – if you find that kind of thing interesting, pick up any book by Freeman Wills Croft.”
It is possible that this book is Durling’s riposte to the Martin Beck series of police procedurals by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö (godparents of Scandi-noir) which were trying to make serious points about Swedish society, although they had their own share of comic relief with incompetent patrol car duo Kvant and Kristiansson.
Incidentally, from the translation I am forced to conclude that the Swedish for humour and grey (or some other colour) must be very similar as one lady is described as “humour-haired” and one man as having “humour hair, a humour moustache, and wearing a humourish-brown striped suit”. Alternatively this may be a printing idiosyncracy similar to the one in “Come to Paddington Fair” which rendered the “m” of “matinée” as a small square on each appearance – which was relatively frequent for a book set in a theatre!
NB: Spoilers of varying degrees are given for Crooked House, The Red House Mystery, and The Tragedy of Y.