Following a recent foray into the Åke Edwardson ouvre (with Sun and Shadow), I read and reviewed a previous installment in the author’s Erik Winter series, The Shadow Woman. I’ll have to admit disappointment with this title. I had some reservations about Sun and Shadow, but the elements that really paid off in the end–the characterization, domestic/personal-life plot lines, and pacing–were just not nearly as strong in The Shadow Woman. And it’s not that Edwardson was lacking for material in this installment. In fact, he gives himself almost too much to work with: transnational biker gangs, racially motivated violence, alienation within immigrant communities, a bacchanalian summer festival in Gothenburg…the list goes on.
I do feel, however, that perhaps Edwardson deserves a bit of a pass for some of the weaker aspects of The Shadow Woman, particularly if one is reviewing it against other titles in the Erik Winter series. Because it is actually a much earlier installment in the series than many of the books that have already been translated. It was originally published in Sweden in 1998, and was, I believe, only the second novel in the Winter series–it’s no wonder that in the intervening years Edwardson became more adept at characterization and plot pacing.
I understand that particularly when introducing a new, foreign (translated) author to American audiences, a publisher really has to make a splash in order to retain the attention of readers for future publications. So it makes some commercial sense to have published a more refined title in the Winter series first, in order to really make an impression on American readers. To my knowledge, Sun and Shadow, the third installment in the series, was the first book translated into English, followed a year later by Never End, which was actually chronologically correct. Frozen Tracks was translated next (also chronologically correct), at which point, they went back and translated the first book in the series, Death Angels, followed by The Shadow Woman.
My problem with this is not that I don’t think that the full series is worth translating into English–it absolutely should be translated. But crime fiction aficianados are, as a rule, staunch series readers, and particularly fond of detectives. And once you know what happens in a detective’s life somewhere down the line–because you’ve read later books–it can be not-a-little frustrating to go back and try to forget all that when you’re reading an earlier book. Edwardson also makes references to former cases that he’s worked on in other novels. So if you’ve read a later title, you have a sense of what happened in previous cases and books. As such, it would have been nice if it had been possible to publish one of the later titles in the series and then go back and start at the beginning, once the audience had a favorable impression. Then the rest of the translations could have all been chronological.
Ah, but I digress with all this kvetching. The full review of The Shadow Woman can be read below, or on Reviewing the Evidence, here.
It’s a sweltering August in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the city is buzzing in the midst of the raucous annual Gothenburg Party. While excitement is high due to the festivities, a series of violent events continue to trouble the local police force, led by Detective Inspector Erik Winter. Having spent his summer lounging in cut-offs, learning to appreciate hard rock (in lieu of his preferred Coltrane), and bouncing back from a transnational murder investigation (as took place in Death Angels), Winter vigilantly jumps into a new homicide case: an unidentified woman found strangled in a quiet park. Although the woman’s identity remains unknown, Winter is shocked to discover that she had definitely been a mother. His murder investigation suddenly becomes a suspected kidnapping as well.
While readers familiar with the Winter series will be glad to have another of these titles available in English, however, The Shadow Woman lacks the depth of characterization and strong pacing that have made some of Edwardson’s previously translated titles (such as Sun and Shadow) so compelling. Perhaps this can be credited to the fact that the novel is actually a rather early installment in the Winter series—it was originally published in Sweden in 1998. In this earlier articulation, Winter is more caricature than fully drawn character. His personal life—which in other books offers an intimate window into his professional skills and shortcomings—is kept very much in the background, leaving the reader to get to know Winter through strained jokes about his out-of-date musical knowledge (he refers to The Clash as a “new band”) and the fact that he wears designer suits as “a form of protection against the apprehension that constantly threatened to force its way into his body.”
The novel is also permeated with a palpable tension that doesn’t truly pay off. As the story opens, one of Winter’s police colleagues, Aneta Djanali, a woman of African descent, is subjected to racially-motivated harassment during the Gothenburg Festival and viciously attacked. Edwardson uses Djanali’s attack—as well as a gang-related shoot-out in a busy city square and an immigrant man holding his son at gun point in front of the police station—to create an atmosphere of escalating violence in Gothenburg. Aside from the murder, these events feel to be mostly filler. The murder investigation labors on, and for most of the novel, everything else is treated as an afterthought. Even more frustrating is Winter’s apparent omniscience throughout the case. In a moment of almost laughable coincidence, he somehow guesses the murder victim’s first name before her identity is confirmed.
Ultimately a lackluster installment in the Winter series, The Shadow Woman remains thin in both character and plot development. And while Edwardson’s dedicated fans may enjoy getting a glimpse of the star detective before he became Sweden’s youngest-ever Chief Inspector, new readers to the series would be well advised to start elsewhere.