The Dying Detective is a mystery by Leif G. W. Persson whose work may be familiar to people who watched the Backstrom TV series on FOX. It opens with Lars Martin Johansson, retired head of the National Criminal Police, stopping at a food cart for sausage and sauerkraut. It was lucky for him that he did so, because he had a stroke as soon as he settled back into his car. Even more fortuitous, several officers had been at the cart and were there to rush him to the hospital where quick action saved his life.
While recovering in the hospital, his doctor brings him a mystery. Her father confided that one of his parishioners told him who raped and murdered Yasmine Ermegan, a nine-year old girl some twenty-five years ago. Her father did not tell her who was guilty, just shared the pain of knowing who was guilty and not being able to tell anyone. Johansson seizes the opportunity to investigate, even though the statute of limitations has run its course. If the murdered had happened one month later, there would not have been a statute of limitations thanks to a change in the law to keep the Otto Palme assassin on the hook if ever identified, but Yasmine was murdered just before the Palme murder.
While most of the time he is resting, recovering, running to doctors and physiotherapy, he has friends in the force collecting files, his genealogy-obsessed brother-in-law researching family relationships, even his care-giver gets busy working with Detective Google. Johansson is frustrated because he knows his mind is not as sharp as it should be. He can’t “see around corners” now. Reading reports gives him a headache, he falls asleep at the drop of a hat, but still he keeps working. He has an idea of the case and he knows he will find the killer.
Throughout the book, Johansson deals with his health, trying to recover use of his right hand, adjusting to using a walking stick and a crutch, having difficulty breathing, random pains in his chest and frequent headaches. He resists doing as he ought to manage his hypertension and help his heart, delighting in sneaking a lunch stuffed cabbage with cream sauce, fingerlings, lingonberries, and vodka. Eating unhealthy foods is an assertion of his manhood.
Johansson and his volunteers are frustrated that the murder is now prescribed, no longer punishable by law. In particular, there is frustration that the case was mishandled from the first day and most of that is blamed on Evert Backstrom, a very different Backstrom than the Everett Backstrom of the series. Nonetheless, they persevere, getting ever closer to the solution.
Of course, finding the killer is not enough, thanks to the statute of limitations.Most of the volunteers would happily murder the killer themselves, though Johansson holds out hope for a judicial punishment, perhaps for committing a similar crime after the cutoff date for prosecution or even for some other crime that nets the kind of punishment he deserves.
The Dying Detective is scrupulously fair and the procedural process of investigation rings true. The “intuitive” assumptions are based on experience and evidence. There is an example of how trace evidence was misinterpreted in the first investigation twenty-five years earlier that was critical in putting Johannson on the right track, but we know it as soon as he does. We are following his thought processes, from his reasoning about the case to his musings about his health.
The story is full of humanity and compassion. There is a certain goodness to the people who are part of the story and investigation. There is no consideration of letting this go, because this sort of crime cannot be ignored and forgotten without harming society as a whole. There is a strong commitment to law, a desire on Johansson part to reject vigilantism.
There were a couple difficulties with the story. Sometimes the pace got pretty slow, spending so much time on the recovery from his stroke. I also thought it was unnecessarily graphic, particularly in having several people share their own stories of child sexual assault. Sexual assault of children is too common, but Johansson pushed people to tell their stories that did not advance the investigation, but did dwell even more on abuse. Nonetheless, it’s a good procedural that takes a more thoughtful approach to noir mystery.
When I looked it up at the publishing house, it says it will be released in May 2017, however it is also available right now on Amazon.
- The Dying Detective at Penguin Random House
- The Dying Detective at Amazon
- Leif G. W. Persson – About the author