commissaire inspector dottore

a bibliography of detective-inspector novels

stefan ahnhem

the fabian risk series

Offer utan ansikte. Stockholm: Forum, 2014.
 ∴  Offer uden ansigt. Translated by Anders Juel Michelsen. København: Gyldendals, 2014.
 ∴  Und morgen du. Translated by Katrin Frey. Berlin: List, 2014.
 ∴  Victim without a Face. Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Toronto: Spiderline, 2015.
 ∴  Domani tocca a te. Translated by Roberta Nerito. Milano: Sperling & Kupfer, 2015.
 ∴  Hors cadre. Translated by Marina Heide. Paris: Albin Michel, 2016.
 ∴  Fórnarlamb án andlits. Translated by Elin Guðmundsdóttir. Reykjavík: Ugla, 2016.
 ∴  Ofiara bez twarzy. Translated by Ewa Wojciechowska. Warszawa: Marginesy, 2016.
 ∴  Mañana te toca a ti. Translated by Santiago del Rey. Barcelona: Roca, 2018.

Den nionde graven. Stockholm: Forum, 2015.
 ∴  Den niende grav. Translated by Mi Ahnhem Thomsen. København: Gyldendals, 2015.
 ∴  Herzsammler. Translated by Katrin Frey. Berlin: List, 2015.
 ∴  The Ninth Grave. Translated by Paul R. Norlén. Toronto: Spiderline, 2016.
 ∴  L'angelo di ghiaccio. Translated by Roberta Nerito. Milano: Sperling & Kupfer, 2016.
 ∴  Dziewaty grób. Translated by Ewa Wojciechowska. Warszawa: Marginesy, 2016.
 ∴  Níunda gröfin. Translated by Elin Guðmundsdóttir. Reykjavík: Ugla, 2017.

Arton grader minus. Stockholm: Forum, 2016.
 ∴  Atten grader minus. Københaven: Gyldendal, 2017.
 ∴  Eighteen Below. Translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles. Toronto: Spiderline, 2017.
 ∴  Minus 18 Grad. Translated by Katrin Frey. Berlin: List, 2017.
 ∴  Mínus átján gráður. Translated by Elín Guðmundsdóttir. Reyjavík: Ugla, 2018.
 ∴  Osiemnascie stopni ponizej zera. Translated by Ewa Wojciehowska. Warszawa: Marginesy, 2018.

Motiv X. Stockholm: Forum, 2018.
 ∴  Zehn Stunden tot. Translated by Katrin Frey. Berlin: Ullstein, 2019.

Fabian Risk has made a name for himself in Stockholm police circles, but eager for a change of setting and a calmer life for his family, he applies for a transfer to his home town, Helsingborg. This city of 130,000, till now apparently the only corner of Sweden untouched by the epidemic of fictional ghastly murders, immediately erupts into the macabre once Risk arrives.

Stefan Ahnhem's Offer utan ansikte (translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles as Victim without a Face) is the single goriest murder mystery I've ever read. Of course, though I've read a lot, I haven't read them all, and there may be one out there that tops Victim without a Face for quantity of killing and hideousness of method. It'll take some finding, though.

Ahnhem deliberately combines the mega-successful methods of Henning Mankell and Stieg Larsson. His detective, Fabian Risk, is approaching middle age, with a failing marriage and a checkered professional past. That's the Kurt Wallander side of things: one character even asks Risk if he's a kind of Kurt Wallander, and Risk replies that he supposes he is, if Wallander were real. And the title Offer utan ansikte recalls that of Mankell's first Wallander novel, Mördare utan ansikte (Faceless Killers).

But Wallander (at least early in his series) tends to work on grubby little cases in his backwater ferry-town home. Fabian Risk, in his own backwater ferry-town home, gets caught up in a sensational case that creates international incidents between Sweden and Denmark, monopolizes headlines, and ultimately wipes out an entire cohort of middle-aged Swedes, as well as associated Danes who get in the killer's way. Risk confronts a supervillain/inventor who wields absurdly advanced technology to apparently be in several places at once and know what each of the many investigators on his case is currently doing.

This is Stieg Larsson territory, and though I don't recall Ahnhem invoking Larsson by name in the novel's 588 pages, his influence is everywhere. It's above all stylistic. Ahnhem has adopted Larsson's signature method of calmly naming and explaining every material object and geographical surrounding – yet at the same time, preserving genuine mystery. Many novels explain too much, and many explain too much while overloading the reader with details. Ahnhem, like Larsson, manages to show more than tell, even while telling an enormous amount. And Ahnhem also knows how to bury and blur elements of his backstory, to keep the reader intrigued. For a doorstop's worth of preposterousness, Victim without a Face is really pretty entertaining – much like the first two Girl Who novels.

The central mystery plot, though, harks back further than Larsson or Mankell, to Ed McBain or even Agatha Christie. Our prolific, flamboyant killer is on a mission to settle very old scores, and goes about his mission very methodically, toying with the detectives as he goes. The first victim is an unrepentant bully from Risk's middle-school class. So is the second: it seems that the murderer must have been the greatest target for their bullying. But then the target shows up dead too, and the killer must be someone else in the class. There only are a couple of dozen members of the class, though, and nobody can figure out who the murderer could be. At times, Fabian Risk himself becomes a prime suspect – until his colleagues have to remind themselves that Risk has been in meetings with them when most of the murders occurred. As if mere physical absence ever stopped a determined murderer …

Our perpetrator goes from fiendish to sadistic to near-impossibly inventive. He kills to get revenge for actually non-existent slights, kills to cover up his killings, regroups, and kills some more. The action reaches a peak of absurdity and keeps right on going.

A few clever murders wouldn't suffice if you wanted to be remembered forever. The media-fatigued public demanded at least two-digit totals for unforgettable killers. (399)
The murderer clears that bar with ease.

As so often in Scandinavian crime novels, the roots of today's violence lie far in the past. It's a dynamic noted in Jakob Stougaard-Nielsen's Scandinavian Crime Fiction and other studies, this continual excavation of long-buried shames. The Grand Guignol aspects of Victim without a Face make it a little hard to take seriously, but it's not presented as farce, or even as a postmodern self-consuming artifact à la Pierre Lemaitre's Travail soigné. The injustices in the novel are heartfelt, and real crimes are avenged along the way (though somewhat indiscriminately, as the innocent very much perish along with the evil). Something is rotten not only in Denmark but in Sweden too; some cost too great to bear has been exacted to create a welfare-state utopia. Now the debt is being called in.