The Killer's Art, By Mari Jungstedt

Reviewed,Jane Jakeman
Thursday 08 April 2010 00:00

Swedish sleuthing duo Inspector Anders Knutas and reporter Johan Berg are caught up in a fourth mystery on Gotland, a small island that must barely have room for any more bodies. But Mari Jungstedt manages to cram in a few more by changing location. Whereas her previous murders had a rural flavour, this one (translated by Tiina Nunnally) moves to the city of Visby. The body of a gallery-owner prominent in its small but fashionable art world is found hanging from the medieval town gate.

The culture crowd is shocked as the dealer's secrets are uncovered and connected with the theft of a famous painting. The trail leads to Stockholm and the auction-house clientele, taking in more murder on the way as a half-naked corpse is found on the snowy grave of the first victim. This is an enjoyable book for the arty reader, with fascinating descriptions of a real collection.

The Waldemarsudde Museum houses one of the most famous Nordic works of art. "The Dying Dandy" is a painting with decadent overtones by the Swedish post-impressionist Nils von Dardel. It's a national outrage when, in Jungstedt's novel, the picture is cut out of its frame, putting huge pressure on the police to discover its whereabouts.

The private lives of Knutas and Berg, thrown together into sometimes unwilling collusion as their respective interests of policing and journalism conflict, continue their turbulent courses. Knutas has to make some hard decisions about promotion among his underlings. Berg's problems are even worse: his beloved Emma and their child become targets in a tense, murderous game. When their baby is kidnapped, she hurls his engagement ring across the room.

As usual, Jungstedt is generous with the gore, but also provides sharp-eyed observation of the art world. She also creates the special atmosphere of Nordic crime – that land of snow and ice that fires our imagination, hauntingly encapsulated in her image of a killer skating silently along a frozen river towards his victim.

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