Friday, October 22, 2010


I have reached page 353 of Leif G.W. Persson's Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End, the story of a crime, and it is growing on me, although I have found it an uneven read.
I wondered at first whether this could be because of the translation by Paul Norlen, or the sometimes convoluted writing style of Professor Persson, but then decided it was simply because I enjoyed reading one of the two threads of the story much more than the other. Persson has such a very dark sense of humour, that I did feel a trifle guilty at times finding some of his material amusing.

The plot concerns the apparent suicide of an American journalist John Krassner, who probably jumped out of the 16th floor window of student accommodation in Stockholm. The story follows the two separate investigations of his past activities and his subsequent death alternating between two different timelines and threads. One investigation is run by SePo, the Secret Swedish State Police, whose operation is lead by Berg, and carried out by Waltin, who is a particularly unpleasant character.

He had spent the last thirty-six hours with Jeanette Eriksson, and they hadn't even set foot outside the door. With the exception of a few brief meals and a few hours' sleep, he had for the most part screwing her the entire time, and everything had gone according to plan. Women were naturally submissive.

The other investigation is lead by Lars Martin Johansson, head of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, who is a much more nuanced and subtle character.

It became clear when they sat down at the table in her small kitchen that he didn't need to worry about the food and drink that he hadn't brought with him. Excellent assortment of pickled herring, gravlax, and smoked eel, an excellent potato casserole with just the right creaminess, golden-brown meatballs, and little sausages that sizzled as the hostess lifted them out of the oven. There was lots of beer and wine besides.
She must be rich too, thought Johansson, loading up another spoonful of scrambled eggs with finely chopped fresh chives. Nice to look at and fun to talk with. Prepares food like Aunt Jenny herself, motherly as well, patient, and......probably wealthy.

I was a little surprised in view of the author's close connection with the police, he has served as a professor at Sweden's National Police Board and an adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Justice, that he describes in detail the bigoted attitudes of members of the police. After all he is an establishment figure in comparison to investigative journalists Stieg Larsson, and Anders Roslund and ex -criminal Borge Hellstrom who have written so interestingly about the abuse of state power by the police.

Perhaps the attitudes of cops are the same the world over, and it intrigues me when my local police contacts always refer to being "in THE job" creating an emotional wall between themselves, their families, and the rest of society.

The back cover blurbs are full of remarkable praise such as:

"One of the best Swedish crime novels of all time." Expressen
"This is a masterpiece." Il Sole 24 Ore

Is this deserved? The book is amusing in places, so far very cleverly plotted, and has some memorable characters and situations, but like many blockbusters it could have done with a bit of editing.
On to read the endgame now as there are still 200 pages to go, and I hope to finish before winter's end.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Norman - Thanks for this update. I've read books like that, too, where one plot line is much more engaging, for whatever reason, than the other. It's an interesting phenomenon, and Your post is a good reminder of the effect that two very different kinds of plot lines can have on a reader. I'll be interested to read your final analysis of the book.

6:44 AM  
Blogger Dorte H said...

As far as I remember, he was one of the ´grumpy old writers´ who ridiculed the younger women and their ´femikrimi´.

So of course I´ll be interested to hear your verdict: does he write better - or just differently?

9:43 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

How intriguing, Norman. I am intending to read this book at some point but have not (yet) got a copy. Fascinating to read about its up and down aspects. Is this the gentleman who dared to be rude about Liza Marklund, who was translated many years before he was?

10:51 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Dorte, Margot and Maxine thanks for your comments. I am afraid that 'Women were naturally submissive" is one of the milder thoughts in this book. Clearly I am living in a different universe from Prof Persson. ;o)

The boozy sexist culture of the police rears its ugly head frequently, and Persson puts racist, homophobic and misogynist statements and thoughts into the mouths and minds of his characters.
He is indeed the gentleman who ridiculed both femikrimi and Liza Marklund.
I will probably drag out some other snippets on the understanding that I am only quoting them to give a flavour of a complex book and do not endorse them in any way.

11:41 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I'm glad to read your take on this, as I found it impossible to finish - the huge number of characters, mostly very unlikeable, the chunks of passages but no chapter breaks (am I remembering that correctly?), the cynicism just got me down. I feel bad because I know the translator slightly and he made sure I got an advanced copy.

Is it actually about the investigation into the assassination of Olof Palme? Never solved, but the subject of much theorizing.

3:43 PM  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'll avoid this book, thank you. Your points are illuminating, but I try to read books which are generally non-aggravating. (Life has enough of that; books should be fun.)

Also, want to say am very upset at the budget cuts and layoffs in Britain. The NY Times says 490,000 to be laid off from public sector jobs. And I know there are many cutbacks in social services, etc.

So, sympathy from across the ocean.

12:13 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Barbara, there are chapter breaks as the story goes from one thread to another, but the other changes of perspective and the jumping back and forth within the threads is confusing and slows the narrative to a crawl. I quite understand why you could not finish it as I think most women would find some passages in the book offensive.
So far the prime minister and the special adviser are not referred to by name. It does seem that I have been reading this for ever and ever.

1:49 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Kathy I suspect this book might annoy you. We are constantly told in the media that women have made the greatest advances in the liberal Nordic countries. Not in Persson's book, where the few female characters are merely objects.

Thanks very much for your sympathy over the cuts.
These will have a devastating effect on the lives of some, but we are increasing our overseas aid. We as a family give to charity as a personal choice, but the country is totally bankrupt and I cannot understand this move. Due to the cutbacks in social welfare the very poorest, pensioners and the disabled in the UK are going to suffer, while I very much doubt that any of that overseas aid will filter past corrupt officials to the poor.
We are on the way to becoming a country with no middle class, and on top of that in England we are the most crowded nation in Europe. We also have thousands of young people leaving universities who have massive student debt and no chance of getting a decent job.
I suspect some people will disagree with me, but membership of the EU has been a disaster for Britain. The idea that basically peasant societies in Ireland , Poland, Slovakia, Portugal, Greece, Spain, Bulgaria etc that had been ruled by corrupt oligarchies, autocratic monarchies, fascist dictatorships and communists could suddenly become democracies; and their populations live at the same standard of living as people in Copenhagen and the Hague was farcical. Who would pay for this? The British pensions funds and the German taxpayer???

2:31 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

I am ignorant of EU matters (though if it's turning out anything like NAFTA, oh dear). Everything else in your message makes me want to find out who in your leadership is trying to make the UK like the US. Take it from me, student debt, growing income gap, getting rid of the middle class...bad idea. Stop it right now.

Only we have a bit more space... which impressed me flying to Bouchercon - enormous amounts of apparently uninhabited land. Plus some alarmingly strange colored patches of red and violently blue something that is probably the same mining waste that tried to drown Hungary.

I've heard there will be a 40% cut in UK higher ed, most to come from humanities and social sciences ... oh dear oh dear.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Barbara, I agree. Interestingly our deputy prime minister Nick Clegg [Liberal Democrats] studied at the University of Minnesota, so perhaps he is one of those politicians who trying to make the UK like the USA. I really think they wanted to make the UK like a Scandinavian country but without raising taxes to their levels.
Of course those Scandinavian countries are no longer the social democratic utopias we once thought they were in the 1960s.
The USA does have a lot more space than the UK, imagine North Carolina with 55 million people, and you have England.

I don't know enough about these higher education cuts to comment, beyond saying there are a large number of young people with good degrees doing very basic jobs for which they are overqualified. This must be very depressing.
Almost as depressing as reading 521 pages of Leif GW Persson!

7:33 AM  
Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

It was telling to read the headlines in today's Times about the total waste of money the EU is. The (British!) president is spending gazillions on a new building, because she failed to negotiate on an empty one....I ask you.....

And what about the banks - when are they going to pay back the money that they stole from the taxpayers? Ever? this wretched govt seems to be letting them off and making us pay for the banks' horrible activities. Like you we are keeping up our charitable donations (which we make regularly every month to a range of causes to do with global poverty, disease, etc). But we are definitely being "chipped away at".....But, obviously, luckier than many.

10:27 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Maxine, please don't get me any more inflamed on the subject of the EU.
The EU has succeeded where the Spanish Armada, Napoleon and Goering's Luftwaafe failed. It has brought Britain to her knees.

11:50 AM  

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