#RivetingReviews: Max Easterman reviews DARK MUSIC by David Lagencrantz

It’s seven years since I reviewed a book by David Lagercrantz; that was the first of his three recreations of Stieg Larsson’s character Lisbeth Salander. I didn’t much like it, remarking that it was overwritten and there were too many irrelevant plot lines (which didn’t stop it selling millions!). I am, however, glad to report that this latest of Lagerkrantz’s thrillers is, for me, a good deal more successful. It introduces us to a new duo, police detective Micaela Vargas – of Chilean refugee heritage – ‘short and stocky … thick curly hair … her eyes big and restless … with a dark intensity’ and, moreover, with the reputation of being ‘bolshy’; and Professor Hans Rekke – a wealthy upper-class Swede from a well-heeled Stockholm suburb, Djursholm, who has a chair in psychology at Stanford University and is a world authority on how to interrogate suspects: ‘he tracks contradictions and gaps in witness statements like no one else.’ They’re brought together by the death of another refugee to Sweden, Jamal Kabir, an Afghan football referee, apparently murdered by Beppe Costa, ‘a batshit, narcissistic Italian’,when he failed to award a penalty to the team in which Costa’s son was playing.

Both Vargas and Rekke come with inconvenient ‘baggage’: hers in the form of two brothers who operate mainly on the wrong side of the law that she is sworn to uphold; and his, an addiction to a cocktail of drugs, which continually threatens to undermine his confidence, which is shaky enough, in spite of his acknowledged flair for spotting inconsistencies in case evidence. They become colleagues because the murder has taken place on her ‘patch’ – Husby, a tough Stockholm suburb – and because the assistant commissioner of police went to one of Rekke’s lectures and wants to polish his modernistic credentials by bringing him onto the team. So, it’s an unlikely pairing, with some overtones of Holmes and Watson, whom Lagercrantz says are indeed his inspiration. Rekke is certainly a master of observation and reclusive Sherlockian analysis, but Vargas is a much more determined and perceptive operator than the hapless doctor W. She refuses to accept her chief inspector’s assurance that the man they have in custody is clearly the perpetrator and all they need is a confession; her insight and research convince her, and ultimately her colleagues, that the evidence just doesn’t add up. 

The enquiry stalls for several months and when it reopens, it soon becomes clear that this is an onion of gigantic proportions. As the duo peel back the layers of evidence, with every new disclosure the story turns into one of ‘political  dynamite’, which threatens Rekke’s sanity: 

‘… for the most part he made rational observations. But sometimes he began to fantasise … perhaps he had found a connection that only existed in his world of impressions … a wished-for trail that [led him] back to the painful moments in his own life. Maybe he had gone mad again?’  

Vargas, meanwhile, realises their revelations are getting them involved in an international coverup that could also threaten their lives: 

‘A shitstorm was on its way and when it arrived, the Rekke and Kabir problem would only be part of a far wider-reaching chaos … they had to concentrate on shutting the mouths of Rekke and his Latina cop … they would just have to up the ante.’

The story flicks back and forth, not just across Stockholm, but across several continents. Scenes begin, end, cross-fade and switch in a very televisual way, which makes for a fast-paced narrative and keeps the tension level high, though at times it’s easy to forget which character has said what – and somewhat hard to keep track of the plot. Nonetheless, it’s a definite page-turner. I much enjoyed reading Ian Giles’ smooth translation, and Dark Music is a good example of how to exploit a little local difficulty and turn it into a major conspiracy. According to the publishers, this is first in a new series; I look forward to the next instalment. 

Reviewed by Max Easterman

DARK MUSIC

by David Lagercrantz

Translated from the Swedish by Ian Giles 

Published by Maclehose Press, Quercus (August 2022)

July 2022 #RivetingReviews titles are available to buy from bookshop.org.


Max Easterman is a journalist – he spent 35 years as a senior broadcaster with the BBC – university lecturer, translator, media trainer with ‘Sounds Right’, jazz musician and writer.


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