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Scandinavia is well known for chilling crime fiction but what happens when a British author tries his hand at crime fiction Nordic style?
'Meet Me in Malmo' is set in Sweden but its author is Torquil MacLeod, a former copywriter, screenwriter and journalist with more than thirty years experience, who hails from Scotland but now lives in Cumbria. MacLeod's track record certainly impresses with writing credits for such luminaries as The Two Ronnies and Armstrong and Miller but, while there are flashes of brilliance in 'Meet Me In Malmo', I don't think it's harsh to suggest that his talents lie short of a full length novel.
The book is billed as the 'first Anita Sundstrom mystery' but the story comes, for the main part, from the point of view of Ewan Strachan, a jaded journalist based in Newcastle upon Tyne. Strachan is down but not yet out and when he hears about a film festival taking place in Edinburgh he persuades his editor to let him cover it; one of the main films is directed by Mick Roslyn, an old university pal of Ewan's, though the pair haven't seen each other in years. Married to a Swedish actress Roslyn is a big star in Sweden. Mick doesn't have time to be interviewed by Ewan but he suggests that the journalist fly to Malmo to meet up with him there. Reluctantly Ewan's editor lets him go on the condition that he also produces a travel piece from his trip.
When Ewan arrives at Roslyn's Malmo apartment he finds the door open and inside the dead body of Malin Lovgren, Roslyn's wife. Enter Mick who finds his dead wife in the arms of the journalist. Ewan finds himself at the heart of a murder investigation which may be connected to a film that Roslyn is making about a political assassination that took place in 1980s Sweden; when he calls his boss to let him know he's going to be delayed because he's a witness in a murder case, his editor insists that Ewan stays as long as he needs to get the inside story on the mysterious death of the glamorous actress. Strachan's editor is not, however, the only person that hopes that Ewan can use his connection to Mick to get to he truth; the beautiful Inspector Anita Sundstrom, the detective assigned to the case, hopes that Ewan can tell her something useful about Roslyn and when Ewan falls for the blonde detective he's only too happy to help.
'Meet Me in Malmo' is not a really terrible novel; frustrating is perhaps the best way to describe it. There are certain rules, or at least guidelines, for crime fiction and MacLeod appears not to care one jot for them because while he bombards the reader with details of the various locations featured and spends an unnecessarily long time in introducing the main characters, he neglects to provide the sort of information that will give readers a fighting chance of solving the mystery. Instead he waits until the end of the story to throw in what would, in a better constructed novel, be described as a 'twist' but here is a great big cheat that suggests that MacLeod had a good idea but couldn't be bothered to work it through to a neat conclusion.
The rather lengthy opening dwells too much on developing the character of Ewan Strachan, so much so that you might be forgiven for thinking (if like me you hadn't read the blurb properly) that he's the main character. As Strachan is based in Newcastle, my home town, I enjoyed those little details that set the scene but by the time I realised that it's actually Anita Sundstrom who is the investigator, I felt that MacLeod had spent too much of my time (and his own) on creating a back story for the journalist. There's a lot of this type of padding. Fair enough, Strachan's editor asks him to come back with some material for a travel article, but MacLeod spends far too much time describing Malmo; the descriptions are good and I particularly enjoyed the cultural details but vast sections read like a travelogue and the crime fiction element fades into the background. Again, in describing Anita, MacLeod misses no opportunity to remind the reader how attractive Anita Sundstrom is: I felt as if my intelligence was being insulted because it seemed like MacLeod wasn't quite certain that I'd understood just how sexy the Swedish sleuth is and thought he should maybe tell me again to be sure.
If Torquil MacLeod could strike a better balance between plot and characterisation/setting the Anita Sundstrom novels would be more appealing. There's a rather amateurish feel to the way the story has been tackled with insufficient thought to constructing a clever plot that hints at motive and opportunity while devoting too much thought to those details that enhance a great plot but don't matter if the plot is weak. I can't say whether MacLeod was deliberately trying to emulate the great Swedish crime novelists: I hope not because if he was he falls a long way short of the real thing.
I've heard that the next in the series ('Murder in Malmo') is an improvement and at just £1.99 for the Kindle edition I can afford to give it a try. 'Meet Me in Malmo' suggests that with better editing and a tighter plot Torquil MacLeod may just be able to produce something enjoyable but right now I'll hold back on my judgment. I would recommend reading this unless you think you might be up for reading more of the series: as a one off it's just not worth it, even at the Kindle price of £0.99.
224 pages in Kindle edition (paper editions not available)