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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

He Who Kills the Dragon

Leif GW Persson

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To purchase Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon

Title: Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon
Author: Leif GW Persson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 360 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon - US
He Who Kills the Dragon - UK
Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon - Canada
He Who Kills the Dragon - India
Quien mate al dragón - España
  • Swedish title: Den som dödar draken
  • The second in the Bäckström-series
  • Translated by Neil Smith

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Our Assessment:

B- : narrative swims about too loosely

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Svenska Dagbladet . 3/6/2008 Magnus Persson

  From the Reviews:
  • "Hur Persson lyckas göra denne antihjälte så eminent underhållande är något av en gåta. Det är skickligt, mycket skickligt. (...) Det är även denna gång hårdkokt, smart och spännande." - Magnus Persson, Svenska Dagbladet

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Evert Bäckström already appears in Persson's earlier trilogy that began with Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End, a figure of more comic relief who stumbles and maneuvers himself into some success, but is by and large not taken seriously by his colleagues. With the conclusion of that trilogy, about an investigation into the Olof Palme, Bäckström doesn't necessarily seem the most obvious candidate for a stand-alone series all his own, but Persson has now devoted several novels to his further escapades. (Confusingly and highly irritatingly, Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon, the second in the series, is the first to be published in the US, two years after it came out in the UK -- where they also published the first in the series first.)
       Persson adopts a bit of a roundabout approach to his story-telling: the novel proceeds basically chronologically, but he circles back in recounting some of the larger and smaller events -- so also the murder which opens the novel. This also extends to the bigger picture: it's only over a hundred pages in that readers learn how Bäckström has landed where he is. (Well, American readers: Swedish and British readers able to read the previous installment are aware of his last fall from grace.) He's had an up-and-down career: he was superintendent with the National Crimes Investigation department murder unit, but was then transferred to a much more basic position with the Stockholm Police property tracing department. Now he's foisted on another character familiar from the previous trilogy, Anna Holt, who has moved up in the world and has the plum job of police chief of the Western District.
       Holt knows Bäckström:

He runs round like a herd of elephants, tearing up everything in his path. Once the dust has settled, his colleagues usually manage to find one or two interesting things. [...] Whenever Bäckström is around, things do at least seem to happen.
       Some of his new colleagues have a rather darker view of the man:
Every time I turn on the news and see that an officer has been shot, I pray to God that it's Bäckström. If we have to suffer something as awful as that, why not start with Bäckström and spare all the normal, decent officers?
       So you can sort of see why Persson likes using the character. Loud and used to doing things entirely his own way, a glutton who has been advised to cut back on the alcohol and unhealthy food (but without the willpower to do so), and a little bit crooked (but solely for personal gain), Bäckström is an engaging enough character. He's a bit racist and a bit sexist, but Persson doesn't really seem to have the heart to play that up much -- and Bäckström doesn't really stand out too much in that regard among his colleagues and acquaintances anyway. There's a very mixed bag of other officers who work with him, including surprisingly many foreign-born ones; some -- the women, surprisingly -- even manage to work well with him, including the Soviet-trained physicist who proves a whiz in understanding and analyzing data (and has access to some very fine vodka).
       Persson doesn't do quite enough with the characters, including Bäckström, but as part of a series these perhaps unfold better over the course of several books anyway
       The murder Bäckström is assigned to is that of a typical 'pisshead', his head bashed in with a saucepan lid:
The classic Swedish murder victim, if you like. In today's terminology: "A single middle-aged man, socially marginalized, with a serious alcohol dependency."
       Or, as Bäckström puts it: "Your standard pisshead, basically"
       Of course, he turns out to be anything but standard, including having a nicely-filled safety deposit box at the local bank. And while it doesn't appear that the paperboy who discovered the body could have been responsible for the murder, when he disappears -- and then turns up murdered too -- it's clear that this is a more complicated case than it initially seemed.
       Holt has a bigger, more complex case to deal with -- but it's no surprise to eventually come across some overlap. And, while Bäckström does quite a few things that he shouldn't, things work out for him very well -- with a bit of luck, and some proper re-framing of events (which he's very good at). And Bäckström is the one with some of the actual insights that lead to the solving of the murders, in a reasonably clever turn.
       Dragged out too long, unevenly paced (with that odd habit of circling back on some of the events from other perspectives), and not making nearly enough of Bäckström-as-quirky-character, He Who Kills the Dragon doesn't offer nearly enough reward for its length. There's neither enough taut suspense nor enough broad humor to carry this along. Persson writes well enough, but it feels like he's mainly going through the motions here; he's good enough that it's a readable story, but beyond a few memorable details and scenes it's a bit of a disappointment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 February 2015

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Bäckström: He Who Kills the Dragon: Reviews: Backstrom - the TV series: Leif GW Persson: Other books by Leif GW Persson under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Leif GW Persson was born in 1945.

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