by Hakan Ostlundh
Translated by Per Carlsson;
Cover Artist: Photos: Landscape by Nikki Smith/Arcangel Images;
Windmill by Carl Hammimen/Alamy
Review by Verna Suit
Minotaur Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312642327
Date: 07 August 2012 List Price $24.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Arvid Traneus is a ruthless Swedish businessman who has been living in Japan in recent years. Now he is suddenly coming home for good and some people aren't pleased. His wife, Kristina, is terrified. Not long after Arvid's return, Kristina and her lover are found murdered and Arvid has disappeared.
The Viper is a police procedural like so many Swedish mysteries, but it distinguishes itself by being set on the Baltic island of Gotland instead of the Swedish mainland. The main mysteries of the book are who killed Kristina and her lover Anders, and where is Arvid? Arvid is naturally the prime suspect, especially since he seems to have fled.
But the possibility of another killer is suggested to the reader through a parallel story: An ex-con returns to his hometown in Gotland on hearing that Arvid is back. Another parallel story introduces a secondary mystery: Detective Fredrik Broman is in the hospital after being gravely injured during the case, but how did he get hurt? A last mystery involves the shadowy Stefania, whose memory haunts the ex-con and who is somehow connected to Arvid.
Family relationships provide the absorbing meat of the book. Arvid and Kristina's two children are now orphans, and though adults, are finally forced to grow up, and also to face the past. The police detectives working the case must deal with their own family issues. The relatively closed island community of Gotland is well-drawn and intriguing. It soon becomes clear, however, that even though everyone seems to know everyone else's business, people still keep secrets.
This dark story has empathy and mystery aplenty to keep the reader hooked. It has some brilliant touches. Hospitalized Fredrik, for example, has a bad, unexplained cut on his head. The reader thus becomes acutely aware of every blade that is mentioned in the story, however casually. But the book is uneven. Scenes that alternate between the murder investigation and Frederik's hospital room provide a step-back from the action, but they are sometimes too removed and too digressive. The sexual explicitness of the first chapters is inconsistent with the rest of the book and seems designed merely to hook prurient readers. The title itself has questionable relevance to the story, but at least it serves to properly put off readers who are snake-averse.