Anders Roslund (andersroslund.se)
Harvill Secker (penguin.co.uk)
Seventeen years ago Detective Inspector Ewert Grens arrived at a crime scene to discover a birthday party interrupted. A 5-year-old girl dances around her apartment singing happy birthday to herself as the rest of her family lie dead, two bullets in each of their heads in a very distinctive execution style. Now, six months from retirement, Ewert Grens finds himself thrust back into the middle of that long-ago investigation: a break-in at the address where he found the little girl closely followed by two murders in the same signature style gives him reason to believe that she may be in danger. With the help of Piet Hoffmann, a one-time police infiltrator whose family is under threat, Grens follows the trail to Albania in the hope of saving an innocent girl’s life before her past catches up with her.
Ewert Grens has been around for awhile – Knock Knock is his ninth outing – but this is the first time I’ve dipped into his world. While it’s not a bad to book to use as a jumping-off point, serving as a standalone thriller, it’s obvious that much will be missed by newcomers to the series. There’s a whole mythology obviously built up over the course of nine books, and first-time readers will miss out on much of the inter-personal chemistry that we encounter, like Grens’ relationships with his team members Marianna Hermansson and Sven Sundkvist, or his boss Erik Wilson. And while Roslund hints at the history Grens has with Hoffmann and his family, it’s obvious there’s a lot more to that story that can comfortably be covered by a recap. In short, there’s an excellent argument for going back to the start of the series (co-written with Börge Hellström) at Pen 33; but Roslund’s writing is engaging enough that it won’t take too long for the reader – new or otherwise – to become fully immersed in Ewert Grens’ Stockholm, wherever they decide to start reading.
Ewert Grens is, undoubtedly, one of fiction’s great detectives. While his name is not as well-known as that of his Ystad-based counterpart, Kurt Wallander, or some of Britain or America’s best-known sleuths, it doesn’t take long to realise we’re in the presence of a man who knows what he’s doing and does it well. There’s a touch of the grumpy old man about him, especially as he contemplates the prospect of looming retirement, and tries to work out what his life might be like if he doesn’t have work to keep him busy. But he has a soft, human side too, as we see when he remembers his time with the little girl who spent several days alone in her apartment with her dead family, or as he remembers time spent with Piet Hoffmann’s young boys. He comes across as a scruffy, bumbling person whose exterior masks a sharp mind and a cunning intellect. Think Colombo, and you won’t be too far off the mark.
The case is an interesting one, giving us a brief glimpse at a much younger detective, and giving him a chance to close a long-unsolved case before he hands the reins to a younger generation. Circumstances conspire, as information begins to leak out – information that could only come from his inner circle – to make him doubt the people around him, to question their loyalty, putting strain on relationships built up over decades. The investigation leads the team to Albania, and criminal organisations that have been selling guns to Sweden for many years. While Grens attempts to solve the case and save the young girl whose name was changed seventeen years earlier, Piet Hoffmann has more personal reasons for being involved: his family has been threatened, and a criminal organisation is trying to use him – and his dark past – to start a gang war on Stockholm’s streets.
At its heart Knock Knock is a story about family, both the family that we are born into, and the family with which we surround ourselves as adults: our friends and colleagues. It’s a story about trust, and how fragile it can be. But most importantly it’s a story about the mutability of life. Nothing is set in stone, and the only thing we can be certain of is change. If nothing else, this bodes well for more adventures for Ewert Grens and his team and, in the meantime, there’s an eight-book backlog to tackle. Anders Roslund is a gifted writer with a knack for grabbing your attention on the first page and holding you, glued to the page, until the very end. Knock Knock is crime fiction at its best and Roslund is a lesser-known, and somewhat under-appreciated member of the Sandicrime pantheon. Make sure to add this one to your list; you won’t regret it.