Friday, September 16, 2011

The Demon of Dakar, by Kjell Eriksson

Minotaur Books/St. Martin's, 2009
originally published as Mannen från bergen, 2005
translated by Ebba Segerberg
361 pp

The Demon of Dakar is Kjell Eriksson's seventh book in the Ann Lindell series.  There are a total of ten novels in this series, four of which have been translated into English (listed in bold print below).

Den upplyste stigen (1999) /The Illuminated Path
Jorden må rämna (2000) /The Earth Must Crack
Stenkistan (2001) /The Stone Coffin
Prinsessen av Burundi (2002) / The Princess of Burundi, 2006
Nattskärran/ The Night Jar (2003)
Nattens grymma stjärnor (2004)/The Cruel Stars of the Night, 2007
Mannen från bergen (2005)/ The Demon of Dakar, 2008
Den Hand Som Skälver (2007)/ The Hand that Trembles, 2011
Svarta lögner, rött blod (2008)/ Black Lies, Red Blood
Öppen grav (2009)/ Open Grave

The Demon of Dakar is a police procedural set in Uppsala, Sweden where the author makes his home.  Ann Lindell is a detective inspector  in the violent crimes division of the Uppsala Police, and she's also a single mom of one little boy. 

Although the action of this novel takes place in Sweden, it begins with the story of Manuel Alavez, who is on his way from Mexico  to Sweden to visit his brother Patricio.  Patricio and his brother Angel got caught up in a drug-smuggling operation; Angel was killed and Patricio was imprisoned.  Manuel needs to know exactly what happened, why Angel died.  Two men, a  "fat one," and a "tall one," had come to Oaxaca to recruit  poor campesinos into smuggling drugs, tempting them with large amounts of money.  They had promised Patricio ten thousand dollars, even if he was caught, and as Patricio notes, that sum was the equivalent of over "seven thousand hours of work." Manuel wants that money; if his brother won't take it, it will go to his mother back in Mexico. Manuel discovers that the big man is the owner of a restaurant in Uppsala  called Dakar, and goes by the name of Slobodan Andersson; the tall one is Armas, his partner. 

Lindell and her team become involved when the body of a man is found. His throat has been cut, and the only evidence of his identity was in the remnant of a tattoo which had been sliced off of the body.  The tattoo nags at Lindell, who knows that its removal is an important clue.  But before she can identify the tattoo, the body is given a name -- Armas, which leads Lindell to Dakar and to Slobodan Andersson. Armas' death sparks a long chain of events, and as the police keep investigating, they begin to realize that there are connections between all of them that will lead them to the killer, hopefully long before anyone else turns up dead. The reader knows who's behind it all, and we watch, waiting for the police to find that one link in the chain to give the killer a name.

There are many good things about this novel, such as the character portrayals and the fun in waiting for the police to gather all of the information they need to catch the murderer.  What strikes me the most, however, is the question that Eriksson is asking here about the nature of justice.  I can't really go into much detail about this, but I have to say, I found myself wondering about how much I cared for the killer.  Normally I'm gung-ho  for the police to get the guy, but this time I was hoping he'd get away.  But considering all that is good about this book, this is probably my least favorite of the three Lindell novels I've read so far.  First, there is WAY too much going on in here.  Subplot after subplot after subplot wrecked it for me.  It's not as tight or concise as the other two novels and a lot of minor characters' personal lives got in the way. And then there's this: I'm reading along, enjoying the story and just after the killer's reflections on his encounter with Armas,  immediately afterwards read this:

"It sometimes happened that Ann Lindell woke up beautiful... She stretched out in bed as if to identify her limbs, and really fell that all of the parts of her body belonged together.  That it was she, Ann, who lay there, half awake, half lingering in sleep, still brushing the dram that was perhaps the source of her well-being.  The warmth under the covers did her good. She almost always slept nude, in contact with her body. Sometimes she kept her panties on, with a mixed feeling and need for protection.  She did not know how she should describe the feeling but she didn't care..." 
etc. Then a quick switch to the police station.  This threw me off track, truth be told, and I was left pondering why that little part is even in there other than for more character development.  It was very jarring, and disconcerting, and totally disrupted my reading flow. 

Overall, it's a good book, not great, and I think that the story could have been told much more efficiently and cleanly than it was. If I had to give a one-word impression of how I feel about this book -- it would be "muddled."  That is not to say I didn't like it, because I did, and I definitely recommend it. And to answer the question of whether or not I'd read another book by Eriksson, I've already started The Hand that Trembles. Many people have given Demon of Dakar a two-thumbs-up and four- and five-star reviews, so it's once again probably me. I'm discovering that I'm a very tough audience.
crime fiction from Sweden


  1. I love tough audiences. Nice review.

  2. Thanks, Jose Ignacio! I tend to call 'em as I see 'em; maybe not always such a good thing.

  3. Interesting review.

    I'm one of those who gave this book a big thumbs-up. I thought it was the best of the three by Eriksson which I'd read.

    I was sympathetic to the murderer in this case.

    One thing about this book that made it good to me is that the author is very sympathetic to immigrant workers, and expresses some of the attitudes and discrimination they have to tolerate to work outside of their homelands -- and the feelings that they have to suppress to do so. I thought that Eriksson portrayed this well.

    It's always interesting to see how readers view books differently -- and also individual reading taste.

    I'm now reading The Hands that Tremble and find it so-so. It's a bit dry and boring for many pages. Now that I'm 80 pages in, it's picking up a bit.

  4. I liked this book, the beginning, about the woman bringing up 2 boys on her own, the post office and the neigbours' lifestyle, was very striking I think. Like you, I also sympathised with the criminal which is v unusual for me (even when you are supposed to). I thought the Dakar owner subplot weak, and can't remember that Ann L excerpt, yuk!

    Such a pity about the out of order translations, apparently there is a lot about Ann's relationships and so on in the early books which explains context for the later (partic bad in Princess of B that we have not read earlier books).

  5. I could have lived without the segment with Ann and the manner in which she slept. Was the writer trying to slip the book into yet another genre?

  6. I am much further into The Hand that Trembles, and it became more interesting when Ann Lindell, Eriksson's police investigator, entered the story in a major way.

    I always worry when men are writing about women protagonists, as in the scene you described above, as sometimes they write things that women would not write. And, sometimes they seem to be projecting their own feelings onto the women characters.

    Anyway, look forward to reading your review after you have read it.

  7. kathy: The immigrant experience is well captured here, and I enjoyed that part as well.

    Maxine: yes, yuk! And he does it again in Hand that Trembles with a total body shave. Come on!!!!

  8. I agree. The immigrant experience and Eriksson's sympathy for immigrants who face bigotry of all kinds and have to leave their homelands to find work and then are exploited -- yes, that moved me and racheted up more respect for the author. It mattered to me.


I don't care what you write, but do be nice about it