Mari Jungstedt's series of police procedurals set on the Swedish island of Gotland, and starring Anders Knutas, started out as one of the best of the Nordic new wave. There were many familiar elements: Knutas was a particularly thoughtful everyman Depressive Detective, there was a well-drawn ensemble, and the addition of television journalism gave it a touch of the point of view that works so well for Lisa Marklund. What was particularly strong was the sense of isolated place: Visby, especially the old town of this once influential port, contrasted nicelty with the rugged barren sense of Gotland itself. Like Mankell's Ystad, Visby turned out to be particularly crime-ridden paradise, but it acted as a sort of microcosm for the Swedish society it could in a sense observe at a distance.
The Dangerous Game, the sixth Knutas novel, takes a wider view, being set in the world of high-priced fashion modelling, and thus also in Stockholm. The story is built around Jenny Levin, a teenaged modelling sensation who happens to come from a farm on Gotland. When Sweden's best-known fashion photographer, with whom Jenny is having an affair, is murdered on a Gotland shoot, the investigation falls to Knutas and his team. And it just happens that the local TV reporter Johan Berg's partner is a friend of the Levin family.
Jungstedt's real strength is charting the choppy waters of the relationships of this cast; Knutas is discovering his jealousy of his colleague Karin's happy relationship, just as he seems to be making progress with his own marriage, at least until his obsession with solving the murder interferes. Berg is likewise driven to family trouble by his concentration on work. The investigation gives Jungstedt lots of room to explore those craggy paths.
But running alongside the main story is another, involving Agnes, a former model now confined in a home suffering extreme anorexia. This is one of the dark sides of the fashion world, and Jungstedt conveys it in chilling detail. But because this is a novel, it points the way toward the solution. Writers often make this work by giving the solution away, and writing from the killer's perspective. But here the killer's identity is kept secret, with a series of red herrings that become less and less effective. So that even a nice twist at the end has been telegraphed in advance, and fails to surprise as it should.
This is disappointing mainly because Jungstedt does such a good job of getting the reader involved, and keeping the story moving on its multiple levels. And despite the let-down of predictability, it leaves one looking forward to a return trip to Visby.
The Dangerous Game by Mari Jungstedt
translated by Tiina Nunnally
Doubleday £12.99 ISBN 9780857521507
NOTE: This review will also appear at Crime Time (www.crimetime.co.uk)