Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Instead of choosing either the standalone or the ongoing series, some crime fiction authors opt for trilogies. The trilogy makes sense too, as it allows the author to develop story arcs, character evolution and longer-term investigations without sacrificing completely the self-contained plot. And trilogies make sense for readers, who may not have the time or inclination to keep up with a long-term series. To show you a little of what I mean, let’s take a closer look at a trilogy today. Let’s turn the spotlight on Stefan Tegenfald’s Project Nirvana, the second in his trilogy featuring Stockholm police detectives Walter Gröhn and Jonna de Brugge.
The real action in the novel begins when German police authorities request help from the Swedish National Bureau of Investigation (NBI). Four German scientists have been murdered, and Swedish national Leo Brageler is a possible suspect. There’s evidence that implicates him but there doesn’t seem to be a motive. That’s where the Germans hope that Swedish law enforcement will be helpful. So the NBI and Stockholm County CID begin to look into the four deaths and try to link them to Brageler. Gröhn also wants to follow up on another possible lead in the deaths and he and his team, including de Brugge, also start to trace that person.
Very soon the investigation runs into two major obstacles. One is that both Brageler and the other possible suspect have disappeared. So before Gröhn and his team can get any information from either person they’re going to have to find both of them. The other obstacle is that this investigation doesn’t fall neatly into the purview of just one of the various police authorities. The NBI and Stockholm CID can both claim a legitimate interest in the case. So can the Swedish Security Service (SÄPO). And savvy fans of Swedish crime fiction will know that that in itself adds some real complications to any case. The various authorities will have to co-operate with each other and with the German police authorities if they’re going to get to the truth about the murders. Still, the investigation starts off well enough.
Then, there’s a hostage situation. A former convict breaks into the home of retired couple Einar and Ingregärd Mattson and takes them hostage. The situation quickly escalates and it takes most of Gröhn and de Brugge’s resources to cope with it. But it turns out that their efforts aren’t wasted as the hostage-taking is related to the case they’re investigating.
Bit by bit, Gröhn and de Brugge discover that they’ve uncovered something much more than the murder of the German scientists. In fact, this case involves high levels of the Swedish police authorities. So now, the two sleuths have to go up against not only a ruthless killer but also what looks like a deliberate coverup of a very frightening conspiracy. In the end though, they get to the truth about the murders.
This is a thriller so as you might expect, tension level and action are very strong elements in the story. The tension’s ratcheted up on several levels. One is the conflict among the various Swedish police authorities. Neither Gröhn nor de Brugge wants to be unemployed, and the reality of trying to investigate a ‘tinderbox’ case with international implications while not losing one’s job adds to the suspense. Another way that the tension is kept strong is through the pacing and timing. Things happen quickly and some of those things are very dangerous. There are some very nasty people who don’t want the truth about this case to come out and they are not afraid to do whatever it takes to keep things secret. The violence in the novel is also in keeping with the fact that it’s a thriller. But it’s not ‘over the top’ and not drawn out. And (so refreshing!) it’s not a case of a crazed international murderer who hunts down beautiful young women and kills them in gruesome ways.
he reader knows quickly who’s behind the events in the novel, so in that sense, this is a ‘cat and mouse’ kind of story. We follow along as Gröhn and de Brugge slowly find out the truth and match wits with the killer. That ‘game of chess’ adds to the suspense of the novel as each side targets the other. There are several players in this game, too, so it’s not always clear who can be trusted and who can’t and that also adds to the overall sense of suspense.
The story is told from several different perspectives, so readers who prefer just one point of view will be disappointed. That said though, it’s clear throughout the story whose perspective is being shared, so the reader isn’t confused. And following everyone’s role in the story allows the reader to get a full picture of what’s going on.
The fact that this is part of a trilogy plays an important role in the novel. First, the characters have backstories and they evolve as the story moves on. Gröhn for instance is grieving the loss of his daughter Martine, who was killed in a drink driving incident. That affects a lot of his outlook in life. In fact, part of the reason he enjoys working with de Brugge is that her personality reminds him of Martine’s. As the story evolves, he finally reaches the point where he can begin to move on. For her part, de Brugge is trying to carve out a life for herself on a personal and professional level. She’s good at what she does, but she’s somewhat inexperienced and sometimes very unsure of herself. And yet, she’s strong-minded, idealistic and determined. As the novel continues she learns a little self-confidence and starts to put the pieces of her personal life together just a little too. It’s not hard to be on this team’s side as they search for the truth about the murders.
The solution of the case is not what you’d call a ‘typical’ solution (if there is such a thing). It involves some larger scientific, philosophical and sociopolitical issues and debates. Readers who prefer a more straightforward solution (e.g. ‘I did it for the money,’ or ‘I did it because s/he knew too much.’) will be disappointed. But the solution does make sense if one considers the people involved and the way they think.
This is the second novel in the Gröhn/de Brugge trilogy. So those who haven’t yet read the first novel Anger Mode are well-advised to do that before reading Project Nirvana. There are a lot of spoilers to the first novel in this one. And there are mentions of incidents and people from the first novel that make a lot more sense if one’s read that novel. But that said, it’s certainly possible to follow the story without having first read Anger Mode. Tegenfalk gives enough backstory and details so that it’s not difficult to pick up the thread of the larger story.
Project Nirvana has its share of conspiracies and paranoia, kidnappings, bugged telephones and chases. Yup; it’s an international thriller. It’s not hard to like the main protagonists and it’s not hard to get caught up in the action as they try to outwit the ‘bad guys.’ And Tegenfalk leaves enough story-arc questions unanswered so as to lead naturally to the last novel The Weakest Link. But what’s your view? Have you read Project Nirvana? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 24 December/Tuesday 25 December – Betrayal –Karin Alvtegen
Monday 31 December/Tuesday 1 January – The Innocence of Father Brown – G.K. Chesterton
Monday 7 January/Tuesday 8 January – The Cape Cod Mystery – Phoebe Atwood Taylor