This is the eleventh book in the Ann Lindell series and the eighth to be translated to English for those of us (like me) who generally love Nordic noir.
The titular night of the fire is how this entry to the Ann Lindell series begins: an abandoned schoolhouse, used as temporary housing for immigrants goes up in flames, rapidly running out of control and decimating the building, killing several immigrants in the process. There are several characters introduced – one an immigrant, who ran from the building, one an old man who saw who set the blaze, but does not tell the authorities, etc.
My biggest gripe and level of disgust came when the story indicated Swedes from the area made no attempt to do anything about the fire. According to the man who saw the arsonists, they stood around “as if attending a bonfire”. I had to take a short break from the book at that point, and that was right after the opening chapter.
In the meantime, someone has called the police, wanting to speak to Ann Lindell, the detective attached to the local station. But she no longer works there, leaving after her mentor retires. She now lives in a cottage in the village, making cheese , while still acknowledging to herself that she misses the thrill of the chase.
Anyone who has ever lived in a small town knows that small town folk tend to be guarded, and small towns usually have tons off secrets. Ann is drawn into the investigation, feeding the information she susses out to a former colleague. When additional fires break out, she does the same. There are also bombs going off, in the village, and in Stockholm. Are all these things related? And where is the missing immigrant? Is he the one going around doing this? If so, why?
Many current issues are brought up in the book: immigration, xenophobia, racism, and so on. Ann fights through all of these things in addition to the tight-lipped nature of her village. Eventually, the mystery is solved, but while on vacation, Ann is approached by a man who works for the national police, and cryptically tells her perhaps they will meet again when she walks away. Will she be drawn back to the work permanently and officially? I suppose we’ll need to read the next book to find out.
Overall impression: it does go heavy on current events, as noted. On the plus side, the book works just fine as a standalone, so reading the previous books in the series, while informative, is not necessary. Ann is a complex, deep character, without some of the tics/schticks that some writers put in place to make their characters memorable for reasons other than whatever it is they do in the story. The story is good, the investigations are carried out competently, without anyone suddenly doing anything completely out of character.
On the downside, at times the narrative got a bit clunky, but this could be more about the translation than anything else, as is not always easy to translate something and have it retain the same flavor as the original. The pacing drags just a bit, and there are numerous characters the reader has to track throughout, and this may be an issue for some people. The issues that pop up in the story may be a tad depressing for some people, and at times threaten to overwhelm the entire narrative. if you’re looking for a fast-paced mystery, this is not the book for you.
I’m giving it a solid four out of five stars. Ann is what really carries this book through to the end.
Thanks to Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press and NetGalley for the review copy.