|Midwinter blood is a rite practiced by the Aesir religion which is originally derived from the Vikings. The followers of the religion killed animals and offered them as a sacrifice to the gods during the winter season. The adherents of the religion would hang the carcasses of the animals high up in the trees letting the blood of the animal drip slowly from the animals to mix with the snow in the field below.
As the novel opens a report comes in to the Investigative Section of the small isolated Swedish town of Linkoping. Malin Fors, the young blond female head of the section, is told that the body of a rather obese naked male has been found near the forest, hanging from a tree in what appears to be a mockery of the ritual practiced by the Aesir religion. The body has been brutally disfigured enough that even the face of the man is unrecognizable.
Malin is faced with two problems. The victim must be identified and, since the crime is not a suicide, a vicious killer must be apprehended before he kills again. She is lucky in that the victim probably has local connections and the population density of the area is nothing like it would be in Stockholm. This assumption leads her to the supposition that the crime may be family related. Sending out a few of her investigators should provide the identity of the victim though the answer to the second promises to require much more work.
As in many Scandinavian mysteries, Midwinter Blood touches on issues well beyond the who done it and why aspect. The characters are well developed. Their personalities and interactions among themselves provide material for a lively book club discussion. Malin is a divorced mother with a thirteen-year-old daughter who is just beginning to enjoy the attraction of the opposite sex. Because Malin well remembers herself at that age, she can't keep herself from trying to guide her daughter through the minefield she is beginning to walk through; and with the usual teenage response, Tove has little use for her mother's advice. In addition the people who work for Malin all have family problems of their own , providing an assortment of struggles between what needs to be done at home and the demands of the job.
The author has chosen to intersperse the framework of the plot with thoughts from the dead man as he questions Malin's handling of the case. We are also party to the thoughts of Malin as well as other major characters as the tale progresses. Though the perpetrator of the crime is not revealed until much later, the victim gives us a great deal of information about his personality and consequently a possible motive for his murder.
Kallentoft presents a good picture of small town life in rural Sweden. During the 1940's and 1950's the town was supported by several factories. But as the author sardonically points out, now "a factory worker (is) forced to get a university education to look after a robot."
As one might expect from a novel set in Sweden during the winter, cold plays a significant role in the plot. The author provides a memorable description of the pervasiveness of the temperature. When "his thick jacket is done up to the neck, the cold wins in just a few seconds and forces its way through the fabric." Midwinter Blood is just the right antidote to the recent high temperatures pervading most of the United States in the past week.
Because the novel is character driven there is no surprise that emotions play a major role in the plot. The circumstances of the death indicate that feeling dictated the method and severity of the crime. It should also be noted that the name of the victim had to be obtained through the efforts of the police rather than matching missing persons reports with the body.
Midwinter Blood is a novel written by a man with a female protagonist. Kallentoft does a more than adequate job of presenting his case from the point of view of the opposite gender, especially when one considers the emotional aspect of the plot. He seems to get it right with Malin's conflicting thoughts about her job and her family. He even takes the occasional swat at males preoccupation with the female form.
Though this is not a debut novel for this author it is the first to be aggressively marketed for the English speaking audience. Midwinter Blood is the first of a planned series of four novels, one set in each season of the year. If the others live up to this first offering, they will be worth looking for.