Book review: The Ninth Grave, by Stefan Ahnhem

17 07 2017

Stefan Ahnhem is a Swedish crime fiction writer with a background in screenwriting, having produced several screenplays for Scandinavian film and TV adaptations of the works of writers such as Karin Fossum and Henning Mankell. His own crime fiction novels, featuring investigator Fabian Risk, have been shortlisted for several European awards, and he has won Sweden’s Crimetime Specsavers Award and Germany’s MIMI Award.

TheNinthGrave

The Ninth Grave (Den Nionde Graven, 2015, translated by Paul Norlen) starts with a gruesome surgical intervention, the disappearance of the Swedish justice minister, and a vicious home invasion in the home of a Danish TV host. Fabian Risk is brought in, alongside his supervisor Edelman, as a police representative in a preliminary meeting with officers from SäPo, the Swedish Security Service, to apprise them of the politician’s disappearance. Risk and Edelman are left in no doubt that it’s merely a courtesy briefing, and that police involvement in the case is not sought, but Edelman subsequently decides, for obscure motives, to direct Risk to run his own parallel investigation while not doing anything to alert SäPo’s attention. Evolving in parallel, the Danish investigation involves detective Dunja Hougaard  and other members of the Copenhagen police force’s homicide unit, who quickly learn that they are dealing with a double murder. The Swedish and Danish crime trails appear not to connect, but it becomes independently apparent to both Risk and Hougaard, as the body count grows, that something very strange is happening …

I have mixed feelings about this novel. The characterisation is effective and broadly plausible, the viewpoint characters (principally Risk, Hougaard, and Risk’s heavily-pregnant colleague Malin Rehnberg) are well fleshed out with engaging, relatable, and not exactly untroubled home lives—thus providing the basis for the social commentary typical of Scandinavian crime fiction—and the plot has been intricately crafted, seemingly with accurate attention to detail. And yet … it’s all a bit too full-on, in some respects. There’s a fair bit of unnecessary in-harm’s-waying on the part of the investigating officers, a bit too much gonzo zeal displayed those responsible for the crimes … it all hangs together, it has a pleasing logical consistency to it, and yet it doesn’t entirely convince, because it’s too much the bloodbath. It’s a pity—I feel as though there’s a good story here, told well, but I just wish Ahnhem hadn’t turned it up to 11 to tell it.