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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Dying Detective

Leif GW Persson

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To purchase The Dying Detective

Title: The Dying Detective
Author: Leif GW Persson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010 (Eng. 2016)
Length: 426 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: The Dying Detective - US
The Dying Detective - UK
The Dying Detective - Canada
Der sterbende Detektiv - Deutschland
L'ultima indagine - Italia
El detective moribundo - España
  • Swedish title: Den döende detektiven
  • Translated by Neil Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : solid police procedural, but a bit thin with bigger themes it grapples with

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 11/6/2017 Marilyn Stasio
Swedish Book Rev. . 2011(1) Dominic Hinde

  From the Reviews:
  • "Persson wrote a hefty trilogy of deeply researched, if ponderously argued, crime novels based on the unsolved assassination of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme. On a lesser scale, this exhaustively detailed police procedural, painstakingly translated by Neil Smith, speaks to that same inclination to dig for the truth, regardless of the personal cost, which in this case is quite high. Maybe too high." - Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

  • "What sets this book apart from so much of current Scandinavian crime fiction, including the Millennium trilogy, is the modesty of its aims. (...) The portrayal of the killer is chilling. Little attempt is made to create any understanding of what drives him to commit his crimes. The condemnation of him is unrelenting and this overwhelming conviction masks the lack of complexity in the plot. (...) The book is not exciting or action-packed in the conventional sense, but for anyone familiar with Johansson’s character it is an interesting development." - Dominic Hinde, Swedish Book Review

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:

       For much of The Dying Detective the title-character, Lars Martin Johansson, doesn't actually seem to be dying. Yes, the novel begins with him suffering a stroke in the summer of 2010, caused by his bad heart. The sixty-seven-year-old is overweight, too, and doesn't like to watch what he eats -- and likes his booze, too -- and he's not particularly eager to change his ways, so the long-term prognosis is definitely not good. But he seems to recover reasonably well, soon regaining some use of the arm that had briefly been incapacitated and able to get around quite well -- despite his general exhaustion, the continued pressure on and in his chest, and those headaches ..... He's only in hospital for two weeks, and then he's back home -- and with a cold case to occupy himself with, he manages to keep quite busy and active.
       Still, this is a novel about time running out -- including, crucially, that with a twenty-five year statute of limitation even on murder in Sweden, time ran out on the possible prosecution of a 1985 murder case just before it comes to retired detective Johansson's attention. It was a horrific crime -- the rape and murder of a nine-year-old girl, Yasmine Ermegan -- and it is brought to Johansson's attention by the doctor treating him at the hospital, Ulrika Stenholm. Her father was a vicar, and on his own deathbed he had confided to his daughter that a parishioner had revealed to him that she knew the name of Yasmine's murderer; sworn to secrecy, the vicar could never reveal what he knew, but he wanted his daughter to know that he had been given this information.
       It's not much to go on, but Johansson -- now invalid, as well as pensioner -- has time on his hands and wants to get to the bottom of things, and so he looks into the case, seeing where it went wrong and then trying to solve it. Much of The Dying Detective then is a straightforward, by-the-numbers police procedural -- unusual only in that the lead detective isn't on the force any longer and is working first from a hospital bed and then from home, with a motley group of helpers -- from those still on the force to his home aide and then a muscle-man --, the case is a quarter of a century old and has long been forgotten -- and the perpetrator, even if he is caught, can't be tried for the crime. Persson does the police-procedural part very well, Johansson methodically working his way through old and new information, and while there are some too-neat coincidences, it's still a very good procedural.
       The case was originally mishandled -- not helped by the fact that the man in charge was the notorious and universally despised Evert Bäckström. (Like Johansson himself, and several of the other officers in the novel, Bäckström is a familiar figure from some of Persson's other novels.) Johansson gets the files and the story on the initial investigation, and even this retread of an old case is fascinating -- seeing the circumstances and reasons why it didn't get anywhere. (Among other reasons: with the assassination of Olof Palme a few months later, that all-hands-on case completely sidelined everything else; here, too, the twenty-five year statute of limitations looms over this story.)
       After sifting through the material, speaking with some of those surrounding the case, and some helpful nudges (including a key piece of evidence) there's little doubt who the perpetrator is. They have his DNA from the crime scene, too, and while he's not in any database, once he's identified they can obtain some to compare it with the sample -- though that's one of the bigger hurdles in moving the case ahead. Still, there's little doubt about who committed the crime, and in the end all Johansson wants to do is dot the i's and cross the t's.
       More problematic, of course, is what to do about the case. It isn't a cold case -- indeed, it becomes a solved case -- but it is a dead case: the perpetrator is untouchable. By the law. But one of the reasons Johansson got involved was because of his sense of outrage, that justice hadn't been served for the innocent little girl, and everyone he gets to help him is similarly outraged. Not only outraged: the common attitude is visceral in the extreme, leading Johansson to wonder:

that even normal, decent people, usually perfectly normal and respectable people, keep offering to kill someone they had never met in the most gruesome ways.
       Of course, it's about what the person did -- so far beyond the bounds of the acceptable that no one seems to have any qualms about seeing the worst happen to him -- and, in many cases, offering to do that worst themselves. (While not exactly all talk, it should be noted that several who do eventually have the opportunity, coming in contact with the offender, do show some restraint and do not in fact tear him limb from limb.)
       Unfortunately, Persson treats the interesting issue of vengeance and justice far too superficially; it really isn't explored very deeply at all -- even though it keeps coming up. Worse, Yasmine's father turns out to have moved to America and made his fortune there -- he's: "incredibly rich", and features on the list of five hundred richest people in the world .... -- and has also made it his mission to go after pedophiles everywhere. And with his money he can resort to solutions that others can't .....
       Some of Johansson's behavior is also frustrating: he's a compelling protagonist, in a fascinating situation, and his dealings with his colleagues, brother, and helpers are quite well-handled -- but he has a wife too, and though she is devoted, she's also notable by her frequent absences (for work, mainly), and their relationship is starkly under-reported on, all the more so given what Johansson is (physically) going through and how he chooses to handle that. The Dying Detective is also about dying -- and living, and living the way you want to live ('well') -- but Persson doesn't probe this very deeply either, treating it (and resolving it) entirely too simply.
       The Dying Detective is a very good police procedural with a bit too much (under-developed) baggage loaded on. Persson again shows himself to be one of the best at what he knows best -- police work -- and he also has an appealing sly sense of humor (including here in how Bäckström is handled, off scene -- even in the book's conclusion).

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 June 2017

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The Dying Detective: Reviews: 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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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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