Seth Lynch's Reviews > Unwanted

Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson
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Mar 29, 12

bookshelves: crime
Read in December, 2011

This book starts of like a classic Swedish crime novel in the mould of Sjöwall and Wahlöö’s Martin Beck novels, and Henning Mankell’s Wallander series. It lost a lot of this feel early on – because this book does not focus on a solitary, depressed, detective, but on a small team. Mainly upon three of the team: Recht and Bergman as mentioned in the blurb and Peder, another member of the team. In this way it is a little more like the original series of The Killing. And there is a sticker on the book which reads “for fans of The Killing.” It also deviates from those other two in that it is not so well written. I feel a bit harsh saying that, this book is not badly written (there are a few parts which could be tidied up) it just hasn’t reached those heights, yet. I have a good feeling that Kristina Ohlsson will improve with each book she writes.

I don’t want to spoil the story beyond the publicity text above, so I won’t give much of the plot away. This is a bleak tale of a killer who kills young children – and babies. It makes for uncomfortable reading in parts. The children are targeted, which means the mothers didn’t stand a chance. The first abduction was engineered so that the mother and child were separated, and the child then abducted for a crowded train. And if she hadn’t been taken then she would have been taken later, perhaps when playing in the park – or at any time when the opportunity arose. And then we see some of the parent’s grief – although not to the extent of The Killing.

I couldn’t have read the book if it dwelt too much on the abductions – I have two young daughters and it is left me feeling panicky. Instead we focus on the three main detectives – with occasional scenes from other points of view: including the killers accomplice, and another detective. Fredrika Bergman is a female and a civilian, which makes her unpopular. She is also an intellectual, the final nail in her coffin at work. Because she is different she sees the case differently. The routine and experience which allows the elder male detectives to do their jobs well is of no help here – children are normally abducted by someone close to them. They are not normally the targets of a serial killer.

The characters are well-developed, although I could have done without some of that development. Bergman is thinking about adopting, which would make her a single parent. She is in a relationship with a married man who won’t leave his wife and doesn’t want children. Peder’s marriage is breaking down and his has a mentally handicapped brother. Recht’s family is almost on the level but he has a wayward son who has emigrated to Colombia and not been seen since. Not every character needs a dysfunctional background – I think everyone in this book has one. Sometimes the ordinary, balanced family, can make for drama in unusual situations like working on a case such as this one. It doesn’t need the added dimension of x,y or z. This would have also worked well as a balance to the other character’s home life. Given what we got, it does work well. The main focus is Bergman and although not wholly sympathetic I was on her side throughout. Peder was handled well. He came across as a bigot and misogynist at first. Although he may have still been so by the end we’d seen enough of his other sides that it was toned down and he gained some sympathy along the way. It would have been easy for Ohlsson to have played Peder as a straight villain – the foil to Bergman’s hero. She didn’t do that, although she let us think she would – which is a nice touch.

There were a few annoying niggles in the text. There were a few paragraphs were almost the same line was repeated. There were a few lines like “he said angrily” which began to grate on my a bit. There were also some well handled sections. The Mother of the abducted child had not been overly helpful with one aspect of the case. Fredrika Bergman goes to visit her, angry that her holding back may have delayed finding the killer. She plans to have a real go at her until the mother answers the door:
“Sara opened the door at Fredrika’s second ring. She looked pale and haggard, with such dark rings under her bloodshot eyes that all Fredrika’s anger and frustration melted away…This was a woman who had just experienced her worst nightmare in real life. Criticism had very little place here.”
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