Gunnar Lundgren, a detective sergeant in a small Swedish town, is called in to investigate the death of a resident of a shady boarding house. He makes the mistake of telling his father, Carl, all the details of the case, including the fact that the victim’s room was locked from the inside. Carl, a locked room enthusiast, is a member of a small club which meets regularly to discuss locked room classics. He and his fellow members gleefully seize on the case and apply chains of Ellery Queen style logic to devise a solution which Gunnar finds so hilarious he reads out extracts to his wife in bed. Meanwhile, he himself interprets the same set of clues to arrive at a totally different solution, through shoddy police work which follows the path of least resistance. It is left to a local doctor to interpret the clues in yet another way to solve the case and confront the murderer. Locked room lovers will delight in this cleverly constructed and genuinely funny mystery, full of references to the classics of the genre. Locked Room International translates and publishes the works of international impossible crime authors, past and present, including the French master, Paul Halter. For information about signed and lettered editions of all living authors, contact email@example.com or go to www.mylri.com
The Golden Age mysteries have had something of a resurgence lately, largely driven by the phenomenal success of Snowblind and the Dark Iceland series by Ragnar Jónasson. Set in the remote fishing village of Siglufjördur many readers were struck by just how claustrophobic the location felt and its similarities to some of the classic locked-room mysteries. Certainly it was no surprise that the author of Snowblind has translated many Agatha Christie novels and he had clearly learnt well from the lady herself! The recent British television dramatisation of arguably Christie's most well known novel, 'And Then There Were None', originally penned in 1939 has also helped to attract a new audience to the joys of her work. As a younger reader with little knowledge of the classic locked-room mysteries I was rather intrigued to explore the genre in more depth and Hard Cheese fit the bill perfectly!
Written in 1971 by Ulf Durling, Hard Cheese is something of a cross between the classic locked room mystery novel and a parody of the specifics of the genre. Set in a small Swedish town in 1969 the novel takes the form of of three individual interpretations of the same puzzle. Part one is told through the eyes of Johan Lundgren, a rather eccentric elderly gentleman and more significantly a locked-room mystery enthusiast. Together with two other senior citizens he meets monthly to discuss a different locked room mystery novel and these chaps take themselves very seriously indeed! When Carl Bergman seems particularly keen to ensure the presence of the others at their forthcoming meeting little do they know they are about to be presented with the ideal opportunity to test their theoretical abilities. For Carl presents what amounts to a classic locked room mystery and what is more, an as yet unsolved case which has occurred in their very own town. And for the source of this case look no further than son Gunnar, a local detective sergeant. When Gunnar is called to a shady boarding house in the town to investigate what at first appears to be a locked-room mystery and the death of Axel Nilsson he makes the mistake of discussing the case with his father, who in turn shares this with his fellow enthusiasts. Reports of raised voices in the room prior to the death, three glasses at the scene and misplaced spectacles provide plenty of fodder for debate as the group aim to identify the perpetrator of what they interpret as a murder.
The first part of the novel sees the three rather pompous gentlemen pontificating over the intricacies of the case, although in truth this is made up largely of guesswork and supposition. Prone to digression the three engage in a discussion of the situation and a spirited game of one-upmanship! Readers need all their wits about them to follow the mental gymnastics and keep on top of the discussion. As possibilities are discussed Hard Cheese takes a wry look at the locked-room genre and considers what adherents to the genre consider as heresy, in the form of secret passages, chimney flues and duplicate keys and authors "playing fair" with their readers. This will delight aficionados of the locked-room genre with its references to many of the classics of the genre and those who have read the novels will no doubt appreciate this a little more than myself. The outcome of the gathering leaves Carl believing that he has the solution and it is agreed that a written report of the conclusions are dispatched to his son and the local police, to no doubt offer them a helping hand!
Part two follows the work of the slapdash investigation which Gunnar actually undertakes when he is confronted with the case. Lackadaisical and shoddy he sets about presenting the death of Axel Nilsson as suicide and he prefers to focus on the illicit activities of the proprietor of the boarding house. When he receives the report from his father and the group he is keen to regale wife Kerstin with what "The Three Wise Men" have been up to now and is provides much amusement to him as a source of bedtime reading material. The final part of the book, much shorter in content, is seen through the eyes of local doctor and group member Effraim Nylander who not only interprets events in a completely different way to Carl and his son but also goes on to solve the mystery and confront the perpetrator.
Reading Hard Cheese it did not strike me that I was reading a novel written in 1971 probably because so much of the humour can still be enjoyed by readers today and as a consequence it doesn't feel dated. The novel pokes fun at both its characters and the detective fiction genre and much of the humour is conveyed by observing the three gentleman's discussion as they rub alongside one another each engaged in their own battle for superiority.
The three very distinctive narrators contrast brilliantly and keep Hard Cheese flowing well and combine to make for a highly engaging read. Hard Cheese has the feel of a very clever cosy crime novel and at just over 200 pages in length it made for a fantastically entertaining foray into the altogether more humorous end of the crime fiction genre than my usual reading material. For those who prefer their detectives a little more serious then Hard Cheese still has much to offer, if only as a means for gaining a clearer understanding of the locked-room mysteries and the fair game rules which fans relish. Good old fashioned fun! Wonderfully translated by Bertil Falk who ensures the humour of this clever novel is conveyed to an English readership, Hard Cheese may be different to your usual reading fare but it also serves as a very humorous introduction to the specifics of the locked-room mystery genre.
N.B. The appropriateness and significance of the title only becomes clear in the very later stages of the novel and for that it is worth reading alone and is guaranteed to leave readers chuckling and feeling very satisfied indeed!
My thanks to the publisher Locked Room International for the review copy.
A group of old friends, who live and breathe mystery novels, find a murder in their own small Swedish town that calls out for investigation in the best old murder mystery tradition. They interpret, misinterpret and throw around multiple theories and follow lots of red herrings.
Although considered a "classic" of Swedish crime fiction, I'm not sure this fifty-year old book has aged that well. Set in a small town in 1969, it's mainly interested in playing with the genre conventions of the locked-room murder mystery. When a man is found dead in a locked room of a somewhat disreputable hotel, three different narrators set forth to deduce what happened. The first narrator is a priggish widowed retiree, who is in a very particular kind of book club with two other older men. It seems the threesome share a fascination with locked-room murder mystery fiction, and meet monthly to discuss one such book. So when a real-life case happens in their town, and one of the members is the father of the acting police chief, they get all the details needed to speculate on the case at length.
What ensues over the course of the eighty pages of the first section is a somewhat numbing debate over the details and minutiae that such cases typically involve. It's basically a parody, just not a hugely amusing one. There's some dry humor to be had at the expense of the narrator's self-importance, but that quickly wears thin. So when a new narrator arrives for the eighty pages of Part 2, it's a welcome relief. The new narrator is the policeman leading the investigation, and his complete dismissal of the speculations of his father and his group of friends will certainly be satisfying to readers who didn't fall under the spell of that first section. However, as becomes clear, the police approach is fairly sloppy and riddled with errors as well, as the policeman is saddled with ineffective officers and distracted by his family.
Finally, in Part 3, another member of the locked-room club takes the stage as narrator to deliver the actual solution over the course of a thankfully brief forty pages. Contrary to the conventions of the genre, the solution requires some rather specialized medical knowledge, and certain "facts" are revealed to be lies that the reader would have no way to know weren't true. So all in all, I didn't find it to be nearly as clever or amusing as it's clearly aiming to be. There are a few elements that are somewhat interesting -- such as the idea that Sweden had local temperance boards that had the power to commit alcoholics to treatment. Readers with a particular interest in crime fiction from Sweden may want to give it a shot, but can't recommend it for anyone else.
Side Note: The paperback I read has a pretty awful cover, and the layout of the text is pretty rudimentary. Annoyingly, although there is a map of the building where the body is found, the text labels used for it are so small that it's next-to-impossible to read.
La mia libreria è piena di opere provenienti dai più disparati paesi: Italia, Inghilterra, Francia, Giappone, Taiwan, Cina, Spagna. Mi mancava la Svezia: ho rimediato con questo giallo "classico" di Ulf Darling, che è stato persino premiato nella "Swedish Academy of Crime Fiction's aware", diventando uno dei capisaldi del poliziesco deduttivo nel paese. Dell'autore avevo già letto un suo racconto, inserito nella raccolta "The realm of the impossible", che mi aveva colpito più per la buona prosa che per la soluzione giallistica. Stesso parere che ho di quest'opera: le premesse sono interessanti ma il risultato finale è a dir poco deludente. Tutto parte con quello che sembra un incidente in una pensione, che però per un gruppo di appassionati di "gialli in camera chiusa" è un omicidio che pare sia uscito proprio da quei libri che tanto apprezzano. La storia è divisa in tre parti, ognuna narrata da un personaggio diverso ed ognuna con una soluzione diversa, poi avallata dalla successiva. Le prime due parti sono senza dubbio le migliori, offrendo una panoramica vasta riguardo all'enigma, speculando sui vari metodi per commettere questo delitto impossibile (la prima parte narrata da Lungdren) e con una buona dose di humour (soprattutto la seconda parte, narrata dal sergente a cui è affidato il caso, Gunnar Bergman, che è a mio parere la parte più piacevole del romanzo). La terza si perde inesorabilmente in una soluzione, che è poi quella definitiva, molto deludente sia perché assolutamente disonesta nei confronti del lettore (nessuno può arrivare a capire come sia stato commesso il delitto, perché mancano davvero gli indizi e qualsiasi altro appiglio) sia perché molto poco plausibile a mio avviso. Insomma, l'autore predica bene all'inizio, dicendo che il perfetto giallista deve rispettare il fair play, ma razzola male alla fine, presentando un discioglimento dell'omicidio non basato su prove ma su speculazioni esoteriche e un colpevole che sbuca fuori all'improvviso e di cui non ricordavo pure nulla. A mio avviso l'autore con quest'opera costruisce una piacevole parodia del giallo, sullo stile di Leo Bruce, con detective improvvisati e soluzioni fallaci, non raggiungendo però la qualità degli enigmi di quest'ultimo. Dunque 2 stelle.
PS: ho letto l'edizione inglese edita da LRI perché non ero assolutamente consapevole che fosse stato tradotto anche in italiano. Ma comunque la traduzione è molto buona, per cui non è stato un grosso problema leggere in inglese.
This was my first Nordic Noir. And one of the first books that I’ve read that has been translated from English. And it was fun. Maybe not something that I would reread. Or at least, not until I’ve forgotten what it was like… but fun nevertheless.
For something that was translated to English, this story is beautifully lyrical. For the first two chapters, I didn’t actually pay attention to the storyline, just the way that the words flowed, and the great character voice that was telling the story. There was just something about it that I completely adored… Of course, reading a story with a bad storyline is a guarantee that I will put it down quickly, so once I got over my joy of the language, I also discovered a storyline that was quite interesting and unique.
I have heard of locked room challenges, but I’ve never really heard of locked room crime. This introduction to the subgenre was certainly interesting (as was the introduction to Nordic Noir) and I have mixed feelings about it. It was interesting enough that I would maybe look into another such storyline. But, it wasn’t quite captivating enough that I started looking up similar storylines…. Maybe in a few months time I’ll start to dig up more Nordic Noir / Locked Room stories…
This was hard work and not one I would recommend. The first third was quite pedestrian though with some dry humour, it then moved with a little more pace. Maybe readers who enjoy "locked room" mysteries would appreciate it more.
Hederlig gammal pusseldeckare, med tre äldre herrar som möts och diskuterar deckare och mordgåtor. Tyckte om att en hel del författare nämndes såsom Ellery Queen och John Dickson Carr - min mammas favoriter på 60- och 70-talet!
Un roman policier d'un autre temps, qui pourtant ne manque pas d'originalité et de modernité, notamment dans le style. Par contre, l'enquête est trop complexe et le lecteur se lasse des coups de théâtre qui se jouent sur des détails insignifiants.