Taking a brief break from Japan, to check out this tongue-in-cheek locked room mystery from Sweden. The blurb indicates that it is some sort of cross between Patricia Highsmith and P.G. Wodehouse, which goes a long way to confirm my theory that blurb comparison authors are pulled at random from out of a row of novelty hats (one for each genre, plus a wipe-clean board for the buzz author of the month to whom anyone can be compared for the sole purpose of sucking in readers). It is, though, rather good.
Death in a locked room takes place in a disreputable boarding house. Is it murder or simply an unfortunate accident? Three detective story aficionados mull it over, followed by the somewhat differing views of a police sergeant. Finally, we see one last take from one of the amateur trio.
I enjoyed the structure of this one a lot, with my favourite section being the first, which is narrated – with many digressions, whinges and a somehow endearing self-obsession – by Johan Lundgren (whose health and memory are remarkable, he’ll have you know. And did you hear the one about the mystery lover who went to the library?). The details of the story – which are not delivered clearly and without hesitation, deviation or repetition, as is standard practice, but with little details forgotten and added or altered later, to the exasperation of the other sleuths – are seized upon and tugged about into quite elaborate structures with more speculation than fact about them.
The second part is told by the embittered and weary Gunnar Bergman, whose estimation of his own idiocy is only exceeded by his estimation of everybody else’s. He is not the most efficient or dogged police officer and his handling of the case is hampered by misconception and a certain amount of sloppiness. This is also a funny section, with the highlight for me being the persistent Mr Hedgehog (I still don’t know if he ever got out of those difficulties).
The short final part is narrated by Dr Nylander, one of the original three amateurs, and this provides some new information and the final solution of the mystery. This is the most straight-forward section and bears the most resemblance to the standard Great Detective Reveal. It’s still enjoyable but a little frustrating because we discover that certain key information given previously has been misleading at best. Also, I think to work out the murder method would require some fairly specialised knowledge.
Altogether, though, this is a highly enjoyable and individual book with some excellent humour.
Any Other Business
Two Swedish phrases are mentioned in the book, relating to cheese. ‘Lucky cheese’ (din lyckans ost) is something equivalent to lucky dog (or jammy get), while to ‘give you back for old cheese’ (ge tillbaka för gammal ost) means to get revenge.
This seemed bizarre until I started thinking about all the cheese-related phrases that have slipped into our own language. Apart from the titular ‘hard cheese’, there’s ‘big cheese’; ‘cheese it’; ‘chalk and cheese’; ‘say cheese’; to ‘cheese (someone) off’; ’cheesy’ and a few more, um, unsavoury ones.
There are numerous examples in other languages, I’m sure. So, should anyone care to write their magnum opus on the linguistic important of cheese –well, I probably won’t read it. But there’s a niche in the market somewhere, I’m sure.