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Levande och döda review

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Issue number: 2023:2


Levande och döda

(The Living and the Dead)

by Christoffer Carlsson
reviewed by James Walker

Just before the new millennium in Skavböke in Halland, southwest Sweden there is an unease in the area. Will the new millennium bring the total collapse of society due to the infamous and much talked about bug?

In the event, it turns out the millennium bug was the least of the community’s worries. As one of them comments later, summing up the plot ‘Someone is trying to kill the boys in Skavböke.’ In Skavböke, like in all small communities, mistrust, envy and ill will lurk behind each and every window. Everyone knows everyone else and even their best kept secrets. The youngsters in the community are a tight-knit bunch and like all eighteen-year-olds they like to meet, to party and to carouse. However, their hedonism leads to violence, jealousy, envy and ultimately tragedy.

At one such party at Christmas, things get out of hand and one of the group of friends, Mikael, is found brutally murdered afterwards. The local police begin their investigation, and it is down to Gerd Pettersson, a policewoman of sixty with years of experience in the local community, together with a rookie, Siri Bengtsson, to get to the bottom of things.

In particular, they seem interested in Killian and Sander, two inseparable eighteen-year-olds and life-long friends despite their being like chalk and cheese. Shortly after being questioned, one of them is found dead, the body unrecognisable, and despite efforts to get to the truth and further investigation, the case, frustratingly, peters out.

Scroll forward to a summer 20 years later and once again death stalks the streets of Skavböke, as one of these boys, Filip, now a man, is found dead after a local funeral where everyone from the community is in attendance. Filip is the brother of Mikael, the first murder victim twenty years earlier.

This more recent death is investigated by Vidar Jörgensson, a detective from the police force in the nearby county town of Halmstad. It soon becomes clear to him that there is a connection to events twenty years earlier and so he seeks the help of Siri, who was involved in the original investigation and long since retired from the police force, to try and piece together these events separated by two decades.

The Living and the Dead is the third novel by Christoffer Carlsson set in Halland. Carlsson has also written a trilogy of novels set in Stockholm set around the character of Leo Junker, but Carlsson is again on familiar ground here as Halland is where he hails from. As well as this, he studied criminology at the University of Stockholm and has worked as a researcher with the Swedish national coordinator for protecting democracy against violent extremism. He knows first-hand the intrigues and tensions that are often the stuff of small communities, and the book is at once an excellent whodunnit as well as a sharp social and psychological drama about peoples’ lives, loves and unavoidable tragedies

Christoffer Carlsson in grey jacket leaning against concrete plinth.
Christoffer Carlsson. Photo: Thron Ullberg.

Levande och döda

Albert Bonniers Förlag, 2023.

412 pages.

Foreign rights: Ahlander Agency.

Christoffer Carlsson is the author of some ten novels and has been shortlisted several times for Crime Novel of the Year in Sweden, as well as for the Glass Key Award in 2014. Levande och döda was shortlisted for the Book of the Year Award in 2023.