Why so? Originality of concept, mastery in execution, depth of characterization, excellent writing (kudos to translator Paul Norlen), and a story whose momentum builds slowly but surely until the tension becomes palpable and unrelenting.
A caveat, though: the story gets off to a slow start: a slow, strange start. We find ourselves in an upscale residential neighborhood in Sweden where several retired scholars and professors dwell in leafy, comfortable surroundings. Suddenly, unexpected news of great import arrives in their midst: Professor Bertram von Ohler, an 84-year-old widower, has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. This revelation disturbs the peaceful aura of the place. Buried resentments start rising to the surface. Associate Professor Gregor Johansson, for instance, a fellow researcher and former colleague of von Ohler’s, is dismayed at not being recognized for his own contribution to the research credited to von Ohler by the Nobel Committee.
And there’s Agnes Andersson, who has served as Bertram von Ohler’s housekeeper for decades, living in his house and attending to his every need. He’s becoming increasingly difficult to deal with; as for her, after the passage of all these years, she is feeling the pull of Gräsö, her island home.
The terrain of her childhood stood out increasingly often and ever clearer to her. She sensed that it was age. She had reached the crown and could only look back, and down, at the laborious uphill ascent that had been her life.
Open Grave clocks in at under 300 pages, and you’re a third of the way in before the police component of this police procedural enters the narrative. At this point, there has still been no crime committed – at least, none that we know of. Now the reader may be forgiven for wondering just where the plot is headed. So far, we’re dealing primarily with a couple of elderly academics exhibiting their complaints and crotchets. Oh, and there’s also a landscape gardener named Karsten Haller who’s doing major work at one of the residences. At one point, Haller throws a small rock at Professor von Ohler’s house. It rolls off the roof without doing any damage.
What exactly is going on here? Patience, all will be revealed in good time….
Back to the police: the person in the Uppsala Police Department with whom we’re chiefly concerned is Detective Ann Lindell. She’s a recurring character; this is her sixth outing so far in the books in this series that have thus far been translated into English. I find Lindell exceptionally appealing, both as an investigator and as a woman who’s had more than her share of trouble in her personal life.
Open Grave is structured in an unorthodox manner; I admit that at the outset, the book had me scratching my head in some bewilderment. But the cumulative power of the narrative eventually gripped and held me right to the (somewhat ambiguous) end.
This is the fourth novel I’ve read in this series. I very much look forward to reading more. (Here’s my review of The Demon of Dakar.)