Book review: Buried Lies, by Kristina Ohlsson

8 07 2017

Kristina Ohlsson is a Swedish security analyst and author. In English translation, she’s probably best known for her ‘Fredrika Bergman’ series of police procedurals which now runs to six titles (the first five of which have been translated): I’ve previously reviewed the third book in this series, The Disappeared, here. She has also written several children’s novels as well as nonfiction books.

BuriedLies

Buried Lies (Lotus Blues, 2014, translated by Neil Smith) starts when Bobby, brother of the late Sara Tell, visits lawyer Martin Benner on a quest to clear his sister’s name. Sara died by jumping off a bridge, shortly before her trial date for a series of five self-confessed murders  across the US and Sweden. The evidence of Sara’s guilt appears unquestionable—not least the fact that she admitted to the murders herself, shortly after emailing police to reveal where in her house she had hidden mementos of the crimes—but Bobby seems genuine in his belief that his sister was innocent, and must have been framed. Against his better judgement, Martin starts an informal, after-hours investigation of the case surrounding the woman known to the media as ‘Sara Texas’. He’s assisted, against her better judgement, by his (former romantic, now legal) partner Lucy, but it gradually becomes clear they’ve gone deep into something much darker than they had expected.

This is a densely-plotted book, with so many fakes and feints that it becomes very difficult to keep track of the current version of reality as Martin understands it. I have to say that, all up, Martin isn’t a particularly appealing character—an arrogant, manipulative womaniser—and one has difficulty in seeing what Lucy ever saw in him, unless she has a fetishistic attraction to alpha-male cads. I also found myself irked by the ‘framing device’ used in the book: each of the novel’s seven sections is preceded by an after-the-fact transcript of an interview between Martin and a freelance journalist. The brief segments of transcript were, in my opinion, rather self-spoilerish and did not, in my opinion, add anything of substance to the narrative. However, this may merely be a device with which Ohlsson is familiar and comfortable: I seem to recollect that the other novel of hers which I’ve read, The Disappeared, also incorporated such material at intervals throughout the book.

Buried Lies isn’t exactly my preferred style of Swedish crime fiction: it’s a bit too high-contrast, high-octane, high-stakes, straying at times into airport-thriller territory. There’s a degree of unnecessary monologuing, and one finds oneself wondering, at times, just why certain people are bothering to self-incriminate by answering Martin’s seemingly-innumerable questions. But it’s also undeniably well-constructed and well-paced, and sets up the series very well for the next instalment.

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