Stockholm, 1793. Mickel Cardell is awoken from a drunken stupor by two young street urchins. Apparently, they have found a dead body floating at the edge of Lake Larder. He may only have one arm, but he is still a watchman. Mickel is still drunk as he follows the two youngsters arriving at the lake to find the body is too far out in the water to be certain it is even a body. Mickel realises that he must swim out to check.
He wades out with difficulty and finds that his implied threats of a severe beating to the urchins will not be needed, that it is indeed, a body.
Cecil Winge is flummoxed and annoyed when a young messenger tells him that the police chief has requested his presence to inspect the body that has been found in the lake. He reminds the chief of the countless times he has helped them and that the last time was supposed to be the “last” time. He cannot help himself however, when the chief tells him that this murder is of a magnitude far beyond what they have come across in their many years of working together.
Mikel meets Winge on the way to inspecting the body. He lies to him telling him that he lost his purse and thinks it may be with the body. He is unsure why he tells this lie. The body has had its limbs amputated. The eyes and tongue are missing as well. It appears that the amputations have been done separately and over a long period of time. The murderer has amputated a limb, dressed and tended to the wound, waited for it to heal before proceeding with the next limb. A ghastly torture. With knowledge of amputation, Mikel proves invaluable inspecting the body, and Winge asks if he would like to help him as his partner.
Cardell was a soldier. He has lost one arm, but that does not stop his predilection for violence and fighting, and he uses his wooden arm viciously as a weapon. He supplements his wage as a watchman by working as a bouncer at a pub. However, his taste for violence sees him fired after he breaks up a drunken brawl violently one too many times for the owner. Having lost this job, he agrees to take Winge up on his offer.
Winge and Mikel almost seem like the Swedish version of Holmes and Watson, but not quite as accomplished. What makes this story even more interesting, giving it a tad sharper edge, is that Winge is in the last stages of consumption, making the task to find the killer almost a race against the clock. Because of his emaciated physical condition, Winge relies of Mikel to handle the more physical problems that they encounter.
As the case progresses, Winge and Mikel find the lengths some of the aristocracy will go to in their thirst for power and wealth, and the depth of corruption, particularly a group who call themselves the Eumenides.
The novel is broken into four parts and there are two more characters who play a major roll in the narrative. The second part of the novel is devoted to one of these characters.
Kristofer Blix is training to become a surgeon and we learn about his story through numerous letters that he has written to his sister. Blix seems to be a bit of a vagabond, borrowing money from one person to pay off another, keeping enough to live a hedonistic lifestyle, locked in a vicious cycle that eventually takes a terrible toll on him. The whole second part of the novel is devoted to this integral character. The novel is steeped in gore, but this second part is particularly blood curdling.
The third part of the book introduces Anna Stina. Anna sells fruit and vegetables on the street. Unfortunately, this is a guise adopted by prostitutes, and Anna is wrongly convicted of prostitution and sent to a workhouse to spend her days spinning string. This sounds like quite an easy sentence, but nothing could be further from the truth. The workhouse is run by a man who lives for torture and violence, and Anna realises that if she is to survive than she must escape.
As with Blix, Anna is integral to the narrative as well, and a wonderful character.
After these two characters have been well and truly integrated into the story part four returns to Winge and Mikel as they get closer to finding their killer.
There is a great deal of history stored within this narrative as well. The era is a great backdrop for an historical murder mystery. Sweden has emerged from war with Russia penniless and broken. King Gustav III has been assassinated and the Swedish aristocracy has grave fears that their country will follow France into revolution. For lovers of the great 18th Century naval battles, Mikel has some ripping anecdotes.
This novel is extremely graphic and violent, but it is violence that is needed for the narrative. The novel would suffer if the violence was toned down. If you can get through the violence, there is some wonderful, historic, Swedish crime fiction on offer here. 4 Stars.
Niklas Natt och Dag (“Night and Day”) debuted as an author with the historical literary novel 1793. Natt och Dag himself has an undeniable connection to Swedish history, being a member of the oldest surviving noble family in Sweden. When he isn’t writing or reading, Natt och Dag enjoys playing the guitar, mandolin, violin, or the Japanese bamboo flute, shakuhachi.
Niklas Natt och Dag lives in Stockholm with his wife and their two sons.
His debut historical novel 1793 has also been translated into english, and I am eager to get a copy of it.