“The Shadow Woman” (Penguin, $15), by Ake Edwardson: It’s an unbearably hot August in Gothenburg, Sweden, and the bacchanalian Gothenburg Party (an annual outdoor festival filled with concerts) is in full swing, although attendees aren’t filled with revelry and joy. Alcohol levels and racial tensions are both extremely high, and a police officer named Aneta Djanali is assaulted, her jaw smashed to bits.
This is but a subplot in Ake Edwardson’s “The Shadow Woman,” and as such, it provides a psychologically dark backdrop for the main story, which involves a murder weighted down with mystery.
A dead woman’s body has been found dumped near a lake, a strange symbol painted in red on a tree near her. She carries no identification, no one has reported a missing woman that matches her description, and the only thing one can say with certainty is after the autopsy: She’s had a child at some point in her life.
With that little to go on, Chief Inspector Erik Winter is forced to embark on an extremely broad investigation to find both a killer and a child, exploring every possible road, from the nearest houses to the crime scene to grainy street videos of the cars in the area, to finally putting up posters asking for tips.
Each step of the process yields results, though they are often tiny steps toward solving the case and are not always immediately apparent. The narrative tends to get bogged down in the minutia of detective work, as events occur around the investigation that have no bearing on the central case, and various clues wind up leading nowhere. While the realistic touches are appreciated, this is perhaps not a book for crime fiction-thriller fans who prefer more action and less of the boring bits.
It’s perhaps compulsory now to refer to Stieg Larsson while reviewing another Swedish author, though there are countless differences between the Millennium trilogy and Edwardson’s Erik Winter series. Larsson’s storytelling style is more direct — some dislike the journalistic feel to it, and they might prefer Edwardson’s more evocative, dialogue-heavy prose.
And despite the violent beginning to “The Shadow Woman,” this is a book that quietly sneaks up on you. Interspersed with Winter’s investigation are chapters written from a child’s perspective; hers is the voice that starts Edwardson’s novel, her repeated cries to be reunited with her mother are desolate and powerful — and ultimately she becomes the most crucial part of the mystery.