Late last night I finished reading Unseen, the first book in Mari Jungstedt’s Inspector Klutas mystery series. In the jumble of information overload that I subject myself to hourly, I cannot now remember how I learned about this series…a blog, an online review, a publisher’s e-newsletter. Any of these sources are possible. Regardless, these Swedish crime novels are set in Visby, the walled medieval “capital” of Gotland, an island in the middle of the Baltic, where I am about to spend a week with my little family.
Whenever I travel, I try to read at least one novel set in the city or region or country before I visit. I think you get a better sense of local color and landscape, as well as a list of sights and other points of interest. In fact, I found Unseen to be far more useful for planning my trip than either of the travel guides (whose initials are Frommers and Lonely Planet) I had consulted. For example, I learned about the Gotland pony, Sweden’s only remaining domestic pony, as well as black Gotland sheep, which, I hope means that there will be at least one yarn shop in Visby. Also, even though this is fiction, I have my fingers crossed that the candy store on Hastgatan, near Stora Torget. I need a salty licorice fix.
The novel opens with the brutal murder of a young woman and her dog, whose paw has been severed. In almost parallel storylines, Inspector Anders Klutas and his team investigate what becomes a string of murders, while TV journalist, Johan Berg, covers the story with a cameraman, much to Klutas's chagrin. Slowly connections between characters are revealed, drama builds, and we get a glimpse into the killer’s motives.
I think Jungstedt, a former TV journalist, shows remarkable potential. Her prose is unadorned, which lends a certain atmosphere to the story, and I liked that. From early on in the novel, I found fault with the Klutas. His manner was overly tense and gruff, as if he needed to show his authority, even in situations where he clearly had command. He’s no Commissario Brunetti, and I often found myself wondering What Would Brunetti Do? In general, Jungstedt needs to improve her dialogue writing skills, which could happen. I am willing to read another novel—perhaps The Inner Circle, third in the series, which incorporates Swedish mythology and has received strong reviews.