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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Linda, As in the Linda Murder

Leif GW Persson

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To purchase Linda, As in the Linda Murder

Title: Linda, As in the Linda Murder
Author: Leif GW Persson
Genre: Novel
Written: 2005 (Eng. 2013)
Length: 466 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Linda, As in the Linda Murder - US
Linda, As in the Linda Murder - UK
Linda, As in the Linda Murder - Canada
Bäckström épisode 1 : Linda - France
Mörderische Idylle - Deutschland
Anatomia di un'indagine - Italia
Linda, como en el asesinato de Linda - España
  • Swedish title: Linda – som i Lindamordet
  • The first in the Bäckström-series
  • Translated by Neil Smith

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Our Assessment:

B : solid personality-dominated police procedural

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
l'Humanité . 11/12/2014 .
Svenska Dagbladet . 13/9/2005 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "La force des récits de Persson, criminologue célèbre en son pays, outre la capacité exceptionnelle à nous passionner pour les arcanes de la police et de la justice suédoises et à jeter un éclairage cru et sans complaisance sur un système souvent idéalisé dans le reste de l’Europe, c’est leur ton unique. L’humour règne en maître, sous ses facettes les plus variées. (...) Grand guignol ? Jeu de massacre ? Peinture au vitriol d’une société qui ne maîtrise plus ses bouleversements, assurément. Du grand art." - l'Humanité
  • "Linda has all the vitality of Persson's earlier books; its difficult hero is one of the most distinctive in the field." - Barry Forshaw, Financial Times (27/6/2014)

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:

       Linda, As in the Linda Murder is the first in Leif GW Persson's series of novels in which Evert Bäckström plays a central role (though, confusingly, in the United States it was published after He Who Kills the Dragon, which they incorrectly call the first in the series; note also that the character features, more and less prominently, in other novels by Persson). It is a personality-focused police procedural, the personality in question being that of its protagonist, whom Persson gleefully presents as off-puttingly disagreeable. Bäckström, now in his mid-fifties, is a Detective Superintendent in the National Murder Squad; he is, in his own way, a competent and capable professional -- even if a superior here at one point snorts derisively that: "Bäckström's never cleared up a case in his life". With some notable exceptions, Bäckström is generally appropriate in his interactions with others -- deferential to his superiors, civil when dealing with others -- but Persson doesn't leave it at appearances: throughout the novel readers are apprised not just of what Bäckström says and how he acts, but also exactly what he's thinking. And while he mostly holds his tongue, it's clear he basically has no respect for most of his colleagues, judges women practically only by their physical attributes, and has little patience for the prevailing political correctness.
       Publicly, Bäckström presents himself -- quite convincingly, at least to those that don't know him better -- entirely differently from his true self. A crisis therapist is assigned to help the police officers involved in this particular case, for example, and to avoid having to open up about his feelings he fobs her off by feigning religious devotion, the godless Bäckström claiming it's all between him and the Lord. So also, when the situation arises, he introduces himself:

     "Well, my name is Evert Bäckström ... although my friends all call me Evie," Bäckström lied, seeing as he hadn't had a proper friend in his whole life, and had been known as Bäckström even when he was in primary school.
       Persson rides this juxtaposition between outward appearances and actual character hard. Readers are shown, in depth, behind the scenes -- what Bäckström is actually thinking, and how he behaves when he is on his own or in trusted circles (his main focus being when and how much alcohol he can drink, though napping and watching porn also rate high on his downtime priorities). Given how deeply unpleasant a character he is, readers' mileage here will vary; Bäckström can be a lot to put up with. Bäckström is, however, not an entirely unsympathetic character, even for those put off by his boorishness. He is actually quite competent, after a fashion, and his low tolerance for bullshit as well as to-the-point approach to investigation -- relying heavily on delegation -- both explain what success he has had on the force and help carry what is, in this case, a very step-by-step police procedural.
       Without personal attachments -- beyond a pet fish -- Bäckström is not among those who take time off in the summer; in fact, he enjoys having fewer people to deal with (and report to) in these summer months: "Last in and first out, and no one around to make any comments". But this is a summer when he doesn't get to relax in Stockholm: when there's a murder to deal with in Växjö, some 400 kilometers away, the head of the National Crime Unit, Sten Nylander, figures it's best to send a team from the National Murder Unit and, with presumably few others of the same rank available, thinks it best that Bäckström -- or, as he puts it: "that fat little bastard from National Crime, the one whose name I can never remember" -- head it.
       Nylander turns out also to have some issues, and though he only crops up occasionally over the remainder of the story, his epic decline makes an amusing change of pace along the way (indeed, his is a story-within-the-story that Persson could have expanded on). Eventually he is removed from his position, and replaced by Lars Martin Johansson -- another figure familiar from other Persson novels, notably then The Dying Detective -- and someone who definitely has Bäckström's number. It's some six weeks into the investigation in Växjö by the time Johansson assumes his position, and when he learns what is (and isn't) going on down there he can only shake his head:
     What on earth are they doing down there ? Lars Martin Johansson thought four hours later when he had finished reading, done some thinking, and put the files to one side. Any proper police officer ought to have worked this out last week, he thought.
       Among the things he notices Bäckström has been doing is submitting dubious invoices -- "for everything from care of equipment and conference materials to the usual bar and restaurant visits with anonymous informants" -- not to mention the sizable petty cash withdrawals and the like. A complaint made about Bäckström having sexually harassed a local journalist in his hotel room doesn't help matters either, and Johansson thinks the easiest and obvious thing to do is recall Bäckström to Stockholm and have some more reliable officers take over in Växjö. When Anna Holt and Lisa Mattei arrive in Växjö, however, the perpetrator is already in custody -- not so much thanks to Bäckström but rather the solid police work of various other officers, though Bäckström naturally claims full credit for his part as leader and part of the team.
       As focused on the character of Bäckström as the novel long is, there is a murder here, too; indeed, the novel opens with the finding of the body. The victim is twenty-year-old Linda Wallin, who was studying to become a police officer. She was raped and killed at home, with no signs of forced entry -- though, oddly, the killer apparently slipped out through a window with a considerable drop to the ground. Fingerprint, semen, and blood evidence left at the scene are obviously useful, but with none of these a match for anything on file the hunt for a suspect begins.
       The local Detective Superintendent in charge, Bengt Olsson, is out of his depth, and happy enough to have Bäckström and his associates, including DS Jan Lewin, take on a significant role. The investigation begins with considerable resources dedicated to it, doing all the usual initial things: interviewing anyone who came in contact with the victim before her death, looking for material evidence, trying to determine the sequence of events and what exactly had happened. Indeed, the bulk of Linda, As in the Linda Murder is devoted to police procedure -- the sequence of steps taken, the breakthroughs and false leads followed up on, the conclusions that are reached. Much of the narrative focuses on imperious Bäckström, who mostly gives orders and looks for ways to get in his drinking and relaxation time, but the relevant actions of others are also presented. Covering more than six weeks of investigation, things move slowly -- the fact that it's summer contributing to the slow pace, with people on vacation -- and mostly routinely. There are occasional small breakthroughs -- or things that seem like they might be --, but it's all fairly pedestrian for much of the way.
       With DNA evidence on hand, much time is devoted to getting samples from locals, in the hopes of identifying the perpetrator that way; unsurprisingly, this doesn't lead anywhere beyond complaints of police overreach. Once a suspect is found, it would be easy to determine whether or not he is the perpetrator, given the DNA evidence, but they have a hard time finding a good suspect. (The first few likely candidates are quickly found not to fit the bill.)
       Eventually, good, hard, thorough police work -- i.e. not anything that Bäckström does -- provides the final pieces of the puzzle. A suspect is identified, then located, and finally arrested (that Bäckström makes sure to be involved with). The whole case isn't particularly sensational, but more or less plausible enough, the kind of murder one can see happening as it does here.
       Persson then devotes considerable space to the interrogation of the suspect, conducted by Anna Holt, with the occasional support of Mattei and others. The suspect claims to be innocent but, given the DNA evidence (among other things), is obviously not; Holt and her colleagues play a sort of cat and mouse game with the suspect in trying to learn exactly what happened. It is all more or less satisfactorily tied up, but an odd sort of conclusion to the novel -- for one, in removing Bäckström from the scene: he heads back to Stockholm as soon as the suspect is in custody, and is surprised by the less than friendly welcome (and numerous allegations of wrongdoing) he finds waiting for him there. Persson doesn't bother much with what happens to him next, beyond then in summary-conclusion (unsurprisingly, Bäckström lands on his feet -- though he does take some lumps on the way).
       Though quite a few of the police characters are exaggerated, Linda, As in the Linda Murder is, like all of Persson's novel, a quite realistic look at actual police work. There's a comic, over-the-top element here -- notably in the character of Nylander, but obviously also in the case of Bäckström and his behavior -- but when it comes down to it, the investigation, and the roles of the different levels of police involved, are convincingly realistic. Things get a bit crowded, but there's an intriguing assemblage of characters, and their various interactions make for a solid, complex net here. Unsung hero Jan Lewin is given a bit more attention than most -- Persson delving some into his interior along the way, which doesn't work quite so well -- but mostly Persson spreads the attention around quite well. The ditching of Bäckström for the last section of the novel is also odd, but the strong characters of Holt and Mattei easily carry that; it just feels like a different novel at that point.
       Persson wants to make this a Bäckström-novel, but he doesn't go all in on his protagonist. As is, Bäckström is an amusing but also somewhat tiresome boor; there's only so much Persson can wring out of him -- and rather than a complete fraud Persson does make him an at least partially competent policeman (not least in his ability to hide his true self from most of those he deals with). Still, it's rather telling that Persson is able to dispense with him almost entirely in the last section of the novel.
       Persson is good on the details of actual police work and investigation, and Linda, As in the Linda Murder is a solid procedural -- down to being realistically plodding in how slowly progress is made. It's no slog, but Linda, As in the Linda Murder very much takes its time; this isn't a fast-paced thriller. (The US edition clocks in at a solid 466 pages -- short, compared to the third in the series, The Sword of Justice, which comes in at over 700 pages.)
       The sheer unpleasantness of Bäckström -- which really isn't that funny, either -- may be enough to put off some readers, but there's a decent police procedural to it all too, and for those who like there crime fiction more leisurely-paced Linda, As in the Linda Murder is a solid read.

- M.A.Orthofer, 13 May 2021

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Linda, As in the Linda Murder: 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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© 2021 the complete review

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