Best Book of the Week!
Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End is difficult to place in genre because while it is about the investigation of a crime and its repercussions, it is also reminiscent of the more cerebral of John Le Carré’s political thrillers without so much being a thriller as a record of law enforcement incompetence. The novel is crammed with characters who are mostly concerned with pursuing their own agendas, whether it be the chief constable of Sweden with his ridiculous intellectual exercises or a member of the secret police who is more concerned with pursing graft and sexual exploits than doing his job.
The novel is a fictional dissection of the possible scenario behind the true-life assassination of the Swedish prime minister Olof Palme in 1986. It is the first of a trilogy of which only two novels have been published in English, but it stands fairly well on its own.
Between Summer’s Longing begins with an apparent suicide. A man living in a student apartment in Stockholm plunges to his death from his window. The apartment door is locked from the inside, and there does not appear to be any other explanation for the incident, even though the man’s shoe fell shortly after the body, killing the small dog that had just saved his master’s life from the falling body. The dead man is identified as John Krassner, an American journalist.
There are a few odd things about the crime scene, including the unusual message the man apparently left as a suicide note and the lack of a manuscript he had supposedly been writing. Still, everyone appears to be ready to wrap things up when police Superintendent Lars M. Johansson discovers that his own name and address are on a slip of paper inside a hollow heel of the man’s shoe.
In a separate time stream, the novel returns to several months earlier when the Swedish secret police get a tip to keep an eye on John Krassner. Chief Operations Officer Berg is informed by his people that they are having difficulty finding out what Krassner is up to because he seldom leaves his room, which is close by that of several students. He puts police Superintendent Waltin in charge of an operation to lure Krassner out of the house at a time when it will be empty and send an independent operative in to search his apartment. That operation takes place the night Krassner is killed, but Waltin’s operative assures him he was finished and out before the death.
Persson takes us down some labyrinthine trails before finally getting to the assassination and also before we find out exactly what happened to Krassner. In the meantime we encounter espionage agents, secret societies, sexual deviants, drunks, and incompetents, almost all of whom work for the regular or secret police or the government. If there is any hero of the novel, it is Superintendent Johansson, who figures almost everything out.
The novel is gripping and well written except for a couple of murky passages, but I wasn’t sure if I found them murky because of my own lack of understanding of Swedish politics of the 80’s or if they were perhaps even purposefully murky. Persson himself was a whistle blower in the Swedish police, so it should not be a surprise to learn that the novel is cynical, sly, and full of intrigue.