UNSEEN by Mari Jungstedt

Far out, Scandinavian crime month is brilliant! Unseen, had I not read The Ice Princess first, would probably have been my favourite book of 2011, but it is sitting solidly in second spot. This was Jungstedt’s first novel, but you would never be able to tell. The story is captivating and full of twists and turns. The stunning climax was unexpected, and Jungstedt effortlessly fits all the pieces of the puzzle together in one of the best endings to a book I’ve read in a long time.

After a party goes wrong, a woman named Helena and her dog are found brutally murdered on a beach in Gotland, Sweden. Helena and her partner Per were involved in a heated argument the night before, and Per immediately finds himself on top of the suspect list. When a crucial piece of evidence points to him, Per is arrested for the murder of Helena. But while locked up, another murder occurs and the authorities and media are forced to start the search again. A murderer is terrorising the small community and the police are baffled as seemingly unconnected women begin piling up. The story is told in the third person, but follows Inspector Anders Knutas and a journalist named Johan as they try to solve the mystery before another woman is killed. When a connection is finally made between the women, Anders and Johan begin a desperate race to save a missing woman before it is too late.

What I liked most about this book is the back story to the characters. That’s where the really chilling parts were… Not to downplay the novel, but the characters weren’t too detailed and the story itself is quite simple. What makes it a masterpiece are the psychological threads that hold the basic storyline together; the interactions between people and the profound impact these actions can have in shaping the future, and the lengths people will go to extract revenge on those who have wronged them. The killer in this case was a particularly scary breed of psychopath, but intermittent flashbacks their childhood showed a different side to the usual killer – it gave the reader an insight into the psychology of the killer, why they grew up the way they did and how seemingly insignificant actions as a child can haunt us for the rest of our lives.

I’ve learnt a lot over the past few months about what I like and don’t like in crime novels, and I think Unseen is a perfect blend of all the elements I like best. An intelligent story? Check. Lots of surprises? Check. An effortless look at family ties and how events shape us? Check. A highly recommendable novel? Check – now go read it for yourselves!

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