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The Late Review: Dark Angel

5th Apr, 2023

Author: Peter Tennant

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Dark Angel is the sixth in a series of novels written by former journalist Mari Jungstedt and chronicling the exploits of Anders Knutas, an inspector with the Gotland Police Force. Dating from 2008, the book made it to the shores of the UK in 2012, translated from the Swedish by Tiina Nunnally and published by Doubleday.

Party planner Viktor Algard is found murdered at one of his glitzy events. Algard had enemies aplenty, including a ruined business rival and the wife he was planning to divorce, but the initial thrust of the investigation focuses on a club he owned which has become a cause of controversy owing to under age drinking and the beating of a teenage boy who was left in a coma. But then we have further revelations and a second attack that sends Knutas' investigation spiralling off in another direction entirely.

As crime books go the main event is almost incidental to the true thrust of the narrative, almost an open and shut case. Jungstedt entertains and/or spins it out by giving Knutas plenty of clues to follow up, suspects to interview, and red herrings to catch, and as far as all that goes it's an absorbing story. It is however all collateral damage, as the reader will realise early on - intercut with Knutas' investigation we are given first person accounts of childhood abuse that are truly horrific, more so for their understated nature, leaving the sensitive reader appalled by the idea that an innocent child could be made to feel so terrible by its own mother, completely unhinging him as a child and then ruining his adult relationships. As the book progresses this element moves closer to centre stage until it dominates the action, eclipsing all else, presenting us with a dark portrait of warped psychology, and showing how the hope for parental validation can drive someone to persist with an ultimately unworkable relationship regardless of the terrible personal cost. With hindsight this aspect of the book reminded me of Ketchum's The Girl Next Door; the abuse though emotional rather than physical, is every bit as repellent and harrowing. Jungstedt is clever in initially hiding from us both the identity of the victim and that of his confessor, so that we are drawn in and empathise with the character before events are contextualised. And in a moving epilogue we are given another view inside the victim's head, with heartfelt words that bring home the nature of the tragedy that has occurred here, how things could have been different and so much better if only a mother had shown the love her children had every right to expect instead of embracing her own narcissism.

If we have the ultimate dysfunctional family in one strand of the story, then they are partly mirrored by Knutas' own family, with his estrangement from teenage son Nils, who thinks his father puts his job ahead of everything else, offering only token gestures to his children instead of true fatherhood. And for Knutas, angry at first, this becomes an exercise in seeing yourself as others see you, forcing him to consider the possibility that he has been remiss in some regards, Jungstedt presenting both sides of the generation gap with an even hand, though there's little doubt where her sympathies lie. Coincidental with this is the plight of fellow officer Jacobsson, for whom the direction the case takes brings home unhappy memories of her teenage years, issues that result in a moral dilemma for Knutas, prompting him to question whether on occasion there are more important concerns than blind obedience to the letter of the law. Through such strategies the character is allowed to grow. Finally, interwoven into the story is the issue of teenage drinking and the resultant abuse, which is mainly filtered through the perceptions of secondary viewpoint character journalist Johan, adding yet another layer to the story, one that is steeped in social relevance. The end result of all this good work is a book that entertains on the level of crime drama, but at the same time gives the reader plenty to think about on a psychological level, both personal and societal. The Times describes Jungstedt as 'One of Scandinavia's best crime writers'. I'm not in a position to yay or nay them, but I enjoyed Dark Angel a lot and wouldn't mind seeing more work from this author's pen.





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