All here remember the ice winter of 1942, on the island of Smögen on the Swedish west coast it is downright an identity-forming myth. Now, for the first time since that year, temperatures are falling to almost minus thirty degrees, and although not as many fishermen are disappearing on the ice as they were seventy years ago, a scientist is lying dead on his research vessel. The renowned oceanographer Kaj Malmberg, whose corpse is reminiscent of a hedgehog: there are twenty-four knives in his body.
“Death of an ice fisherman” is the second case of investigator Dennis Wilhelmson, who was transferred to the province after starting his career with the Gothenburg special task force. To the small archipelago island, just a few kilometers south of Fjällbacka, where the crime novels by Camilla Läckberg are set. In summer, bathing holidaymakers romp about, in winter only those who prefer to be among themselves anyway. Here Dennis has to mimic the village policeman, stick to the islanders who know the country and its people better than he does.
The Swedish bestselling author Anna Ihrén juggles with an enormous ensemble of figures in “Death of an Ice Fisherman”: In addition to Dennis and his colleague Sandra, a handful of other police officers are involved in the case, as well as the relatives of the victim and the crew on board the “Idun”, Dennis’ own family and a few other islanders. But what initially threatens to blow up turns out to be a cleverly developed microsociology. Quickly changing perspectives, Ihrén works on the background of the characters and gladly accepts that the investigation of the murder will not go well for a long time.
Even the investigators are only really gripped by the case when three quarters of the pages have already been read; beforehand they deal with ex-girlfriends and the preparations for a wedding. But that doesn’t speak against the “death of an ice fisherman”. Even if not every subplot feels absolutely necessary, not every thread is seamlessly tied in, not every confusing tactic works, but yours does justice to an undeniable charm of provincial thriller: Based on very specific historical, cultural, geographical characteristics, it gets to grips with what it is like feels like being involved. Integrated as an individual in a family and social context, as an institution in international relations, as a secluded stretch of land in the course of the world, the progress of history.
Breakthroughs are a long time coming
On the one hand, the author manages this with the help of italicized chapters that look back to 1941: A woman and her three children wait there shortly before Christmas for their father, who has not returned from the sea for days. The little daughter, stubborn and motionless on a wooden stool in front of the window, staring in the direction from which he should come, is a strong picture, a fixed point in the constant change of perspective. Meanwhile, the same Christmas breads are drying up on the plates as they are now. Ihrén is always talking about the pastries on the tables, for example she knows that the small number of trees on the archipelago is responsible for the fact that flatbread has always been baked there: it requires less heat and thus uses less wood.
On the other hand, it looks ahead to a fearful future. The murdered man had been working on a secret project about ocean warming, possibly making powerful enemies. But against all warnings, the “Idun” completes her research trip and sets course for Spitzbergen, where the author places her figures on snowmobiles in front of the impressive glacier panorama, only to ironically break the upcoming James Bond memorial finale. It describes police work that is clearly different from the spectacular operations we know from agent films and television crime stories. Breakthroughs are a long time coming, investigators are distracted from life, the arrests in the end rarely leave an uplifting feeling.
Anna Ihrén writes well about what she knows. The only real annoyance is how clumsily she uses clichés outside of this. The Russian enclave Barentsburg on Spitsbergen breathes the “spirit of the old Soviet Union” with her, and as soon as she talks about a character who has spent a long time in Africa – there is no more precise location – she wallows in colonial kitsch. There is talk of the originality of the country, of poor village beauties, and she degrades the black adoptive son of a Swede to the stereotype of the figure magical negrowho gives life-wise hints without ever developing anything like a personality.
Anna Ihrén: “Death of an Ice Fisherman”. Detective novel. Translated from the Swedish by Ulla Ackermann. Harper Collins Germany Verlag, Hamburg 2020. 400 pp., Br., 12, – €.