On his return to Gothenburg from Marbella where he has been visiting his sick father, Detective Chief Inspector Erik Winter is greeted with a gruesome double murder. The suspicions of a teenage paperboy persuade police officers to force entry into an apartment where they find the bodies of a married couple arranged in a horrific tableau; painted on the wall is a single word and the flat is filled with the sound of macabre death metal music playing on a continuous loop. A couple of answer phone messages lead Winter to suspect that the couple may have been entertaining someone they had made contact with through classified adverts and enquiries about the music that was playing introduce him to the sinister subculture of death metal music. Winter has a race against time to catch the killer before he or she strikes again.
Although this is not the first in Ake Edwardsson's novels featuring Winter, it's the first to have been translated into English and, boy, does it show. It is possible to read this as a stand alone novel but to do so you need to wade through much that is irrelevant and I also found that I was confused by a cast list that was really too long for this novel but may have been less complicated had I already encountered some of the characters and could make a connection with them and something that had happened in an earlier book.
"Sun and Shadow" starts brilliantly with the murder of the Valkers so you are left with lots of questions. Who killed them? Why were the Valkers murdered? And why were they killed so brutally and their bodies left in this odd display? Unfortunately the next (fairly lengthy) section details Winter's trip to Spain when his father is taken ill and, while I was desperate to get back to this macabre murder, I plodded on patiently as Winter agonised over whether to get it on with an attractive translator in Torremolinos, an aside that was pretty boring and ultimately pointless.
Winter is a nicely developed character but avid readers of crime fiction will find that he is really a hybrid of lots of other characters. He's the youngest person ever to hold his rank in Sweden and his partner, Angela, is pregnant with the couple's first child. While there's plenty of background on Winter's friendship with a British counterpart, we learn virtually nothing of the history between Winter and Angela which would have been more interesting and relevant because there are clearly some underlying issues in that relationship: Angela is in the process of moving into Winter's apartment when the story opens but Winter is showing some serious symptoms of commitment phobia and I really wanted some explanation as to why.
Like lots of other detectives, Winter has his passion - his is jazz music; however, a recurring thread of this novel revolves around the attempts of winter's friends and colleagues to get him to broaden his listening experience, most notably with Bruce Springsteen, so there are lots of reference to his songs and excerpts of Springsteen lyrics which comes across as really pretentious and stilted.
The dialogue was also very stilted, whether from translation or in its first language, I'm not sure. The conversations between the teenagers were really not authentic at all and I couldn't imagine kids talking like this. There were also some oddities in the language used in the police investigation and, again, I'm not sure whether this arises as a result of the translation or was always there. When referring to the forensic evidence found at the scene of the crime, the officers refer to "sperm" but wouldn't it more correctly be "semen"? That might sound picky but when it's used several times the error starts to look quite glaring.
But this is a crime novel and a police procedural at that so is it any good in that respect? While it starts off brilliantly there are some major flaws. Firstly, it's made obvious from the outset that the perpetrator is likely to be a police officer and there are lots of red herrings thrown around to really get you wondering. However, a long way into the investigation Winter (and the reader) wastes lots of time looking into the possibility of the crime being linked to a movie that is being made in Gothenburg for which lots of police uniforms have been hired; this was another pointless digression and it doesn't spoil the outcome to know this as even the cover blurb tells you the real outcome. The clues are painfully dragged out as Winter waits for the paperboy to remember what he saw bit by bit; personally I was so annoyed I'd have beaten it out of the kid as it drew the story out too long. The outcome is resolved far too quickly and there are several loose ends left dangling very untidily at the very end.
This could have been a really good piece of crime fiction but in the end there are just too many flaws. Even a last minute twist couldn't redeem this one and, although I wish I'd been able to start the series at the beginning, I won't be reading any more.