Sunday, September 14, 2014

back to the north: Spring Tide, by Cilla & Rolf Börjlind

Hesperus/Nova, 2014
originally published as Springfloden, 2012
473 pp

paperback, copy for review - thank you, Shannon!

I have to offer kudos to the authors for their opening chapter -- I think they designed the first few pages totally for shock value and it worked.  There is one of the most god-awful crimes going on in that chapter, and seriously, I couldn't help but to be drawn in just to see who could have committed such a terrible deed. Eventually all is made clear, but in the meantime, a number of other things are going on that the reader must work through before getting to the big reveal.  On the whole, it's not a bad book -- there are a number of twists and turns throughout the story that keep things interesting and then there's that need to figure out who could have committed such an atrocious opening crime and why that kept me reading -- but on the flip side, there are definitely issues that keep it from being a much better book.

The story begins in 1987 on the west coast of Sweden, on a night of a spring tide.  While the tide is out, three people bury a woman in the exposed sand, leaving only her head exposed, knowing that within fifteen minutes, the waves would be rolling back in with the high tide that would raise the water level about 50 centimeters. They do the deed, not knowing that there is someone else on the beach watching them. As the tide starts to come back in, we are told that not only is this poor woman pregnant, but that her water has broken.  Nearly a quarter of a century later, in 2011, young Olivia Rönning, a police-college student, is just about to start her summer holidays.  One of her instructors has a file of cold cases in his hand, and offers them a "voluntary" summer project: they are to choose one case, make an analysis of the investigation, and see if they can find anything that have been done differently - "a little exercise in how cold cases can be tackled." Olivia chooses one that her father, now deceased, had worked on as a DCI in the national crime squad.  As it just so happens, it's the murder of the pregnant woman that occurred in 1987 in Hasslevikarna, on the island of Nordkoster. Olivia really gets into this murder study, mainly because the woman's identity had never been established  - and comes up with all kinds of ideas.  The first thing she does is to look for the original investigating officer, Tom Stilton, only to find out that no one seems to know where he is. Later she will discover his whereabouts and they will team up, but first, she decides to go to Hasslevikarna herself and find out what she can there.

While Olivia is off playing girl detective, the streets of Stockholm are in a bit of turmoil. Some very nasty people are attacking the homeless on the streets, beating them up,  filming the violence on their cell phones and then sending the video to a website called Trashkick.  The police haven't seemed very interested in getting to the bottom of things, but when a woman is killed, one roughsleeping man in particular decides he needs to find out who did this, only to find out that the problem is even worse than he'd imagined.  Then there's a storyline regarding a minerals magnate who maintains his interests through some pretty unsavory methods, but who will do anything to save himself and his fortune when someone from the past pops up, threatening to reveal a shared secret.  The book encompasses all of these plotlines, along with running social commentary,  mainly on the lack of a safety net for the not-so-fortunate in Stockholm.


So - while I enjoyed the basic whodunit solving of the story as well as  some surprising twists that kept cropping up that appealed to my need to play armchair detective,  I think the authors were a little overambitious here.  If the story had been reined in a little more, more tightly controlled with a lot of extraneous stuff edited out,  it would have made for much better reading.  Second, I just couldn't help noticing the number of  coincidences that play a huge role throughout the book, some of them just too fluky to be credible. Then there's main character Olivia -- while she becomes embroiled in this particular cold case for her own reasons, sometimes she comes across as a less-serious heroine than one would expect. It's almost as if the authors felt they needed a young-adult component to reach a wider reading audience.  Teaming her up with the inwardly-tormented Stilton was a great idea, but even there, he's definitely the one in control. And finally, while I think crime fiction is an excellent venue for exploring social issues, it has to be done in moderation and in the context of the story to come off in a very good way -- here, it's just a little overdone for my personal taste.

So far, from what I can tell, reader reviews have been positive, with a number of people eager for Spring Tide to branch out into a series.   If that happens, I would likely give a second book a read -- while the Börjlinds may be seasoned television scriptwriters, this is their first attempt at novel writing, and they wouldn't be the only newbie novelists who were a little overambitious initially but who came back stronger in their next attempt.


  1. Ooh, between the horrific initial crime and the coincidences, I think I won't read this one. That is a horrendous opening murder. I've never even thought of such a crime.

    I think I'll wait and see if the second book is better. What does draw me in is a smart woman detective. But I'll wait anyway.

    1. The opening scene is quite original, and I've never seen anything like it either. As far as horrific crimes go, this one is tame compared to some I've encountered. For example, I've just finished Birdman, by Mo Hayder - and probably will never read her again. She seems to delight in graphic violence.

  2. I think lots of current crime novels could be trimmed down, or maybe even cut in half, including this one. I liked the second half of this one more than the first.

  3. Oh, Mo Hayder. I read The Devil of Nanking about Japan's war on Nanking in 1937 where hundreds of thousands of Chinese people were raped, tortured and killed. I skipped half as I read it. The descriptions were of such sadism that I couldn't read them. However, what I gleaned between the atrocities was a history I didn't know. Her afterword was good.

    This book led me to learn more about this horrific siege, unknown to many people here. But I have not read a book by her again, and there are several authors whose books I won't read, and some of these I see on TV book discussions and I like them, as Karin Slaughter.


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