Double Day, £11.99. Order for £10.89 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
Unknown, Byy Mari Jungstedt, translated by Tiina Nunnally
Thursday 05 March 2009
Decapitated equines have had a Mafiosi context until now: who could forget that pillow surprise in The Godfather? Mari Jungstedt's novel takes the image into a different setting, while retaining its iconic horror. The Swedish island of Gotland, with its mixture of hard-working locals and wealthy incomers, is enjoying its innocent summer when two young girls discover that a beloved pony is no longer available to ride. In ancient Scandinavia, a horse's head stuck on a pole was a fearsome threat – but where is poor Pontus's head, and whom will it threaten?
Things go rapidly downhill as animal abuse turns into a murder investigation. There's an archaeological dig taking place, and a visiting Dutch student is found hanging from a tree with strange markings on her skin. Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas finds himself caught in a complex web that involves a group of archaeologists, stolen treasure and a psychopath stalking the island.
There's also the possibility of an unpleasant inheritance from the Viking past: the "threefold death", where a victim is hanged, stabbed and drowned, economically placating three different gods. And maybe some sophisticated modern professionals want to revert to an ancient religion involving buckets of chicken's blood. The tiny island is seething with a heady brew of historical traditions, jealousies and murderous passions.
In her third novel featuring Knutas and television reporter Johan Berg, Jungstedt's plotting skills have developed to create satisfying entanglements, and her main characters are now richer personalities. The members of the archaeological excavation are persuasively delineated, while Berg's romantic entanglement is treated with depth and subtlety. There is plenty of tension as reporter and detective discover bloody rituals and get closer to the killer. I did worry about how much farmyard life there was left on Gotland, but no doubt it can re-stock in time for Jungstedt's next thriller.
Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'music
Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Thailand beach murders: Thai PM suggests 'attractive' female tourists cannot expect to be safe wearing bikinis
- 2 Scottish independence: Five reasons Salmond is secretly hoping for a 'No' vote
- 3 Isis plan to 'behead random member of the public' in Sydney thwarted by Australian police
- 4 Scottish independence: Andy Murray backs Yes campaign in eleventh hour decision
- 5 Have you heard about the film Singapore has banned its people from watching? Well, you have now
Laurie Lee's Rosie: What is it like to inspire a writer's work and be immortalised forever on the page?
Metal detectors object to digs by Mackenzie Crook about ‘dysfunctional’ hobby in BBC4's 'Detectorists'
Doctor Who series 8: Time Heist pictures revealed ahead of episode 5
The Walking Dead season 5 air date, trailer and season 4 recap
Star Wars 7 leaked set photo of Adam Driver changes everything
Daniele Watts: Django Unchained actress detained by Los Angeles police after being mistaken for a prostitute
Scottish independence referendum: A nation divided against itself
The political class is doing what Hitler couldn’t – destroying Britain
Scottish independence: Nationalist leader Jim Sillars threatens pro-union companies with 'day of reckoning' after independence
Portuguese academic says British are 'filthy, violent and drunk'
Scottish independence: David Cameron is becoming the 'George Bush of Britain'