The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

In 1793, in Stockholm, one early autumn morning, two children find Mickel Cardell, a man of the Watch, in a drunken stupor, and shake him awake.  At first he can’t figure out what they are saying, but slowly their words sink in. There is a body, they say, at the edge of the pond called the Larder. Although once pristine and clear, the Larder is now a stinking cesspool of refuse and sewage and bodies often show up there. But the children are obviously terrified and their terror finally motivates him to follow them. What he finds shakes him to the core. It is worse than anything he ever seen, even in the war where he lost his arm, even the vice, corruption and the depravity he has seen in Stockholm as part of the Watch, for the corpse was bizarrely mutilated with specific and terrifying intent.

As part of the Watch, once Cardell notifies the authorities his job is done, but he cannot shake the vision of the corpse and offers his services to Cecil Winge, the lawyer who is put in charge of the case. Winge is mortally ill but the case motivates him and gives him a strength he did not know he possessed to pursue the truth.

As they try to identify the mutilated body and who killed him, Cardell and Winge must reveal the worst parts of Stockholm: the thieving guttersnipes, the madams who traffic in the poor and destitute, and mercenaries who are looking for their next mark. They follow the trail of a farmer’s son who encounters betrayal and treachery when he comes to Stockholm to make his fortune, and uncover the grievous miscarriage of justice carried out when an orphan girl is consigned to a workhouse that starves and brutally beats the women who work there. Soon they discover the connections between these unfortunates and the rich and powerful who benefit from their misery. As Winge and Cardell get closer and closer to the answer they realize that the gruesome body from the lake pulls together disparate members of society; wealthy and beggar, pious and hedonist, powerful and desparate and in that collision they reveal their secrets.

This is the first novel by Natt och Dag, a member of one of the oldest noble families in Sweden. Reminiscent of Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose in its portrayal of the gritty reality of life and its labyrinthine plot. this book is a deep dive into the culture, values and history of eighteenth century Sweden. Readers should know that this is not an easy read with many descriptions of casual and brutal depravity, which was probably very common at the time.  But in spite of that there is much to appreciate. In particular Natt och Dag’s character development of Cardell and Winge is quite deft. Initially it is difficult to identify with them, but as their own stories and characters are revealed they become more sympathetic and relatable. I look forward to more from this gifted new author!

Brenda’s Rating: **** (4 out of 5 Stars)

Recommend this Book to: Marian, Keith, Sharon and Ken

Book Study Worthy? Yes!

Read in ebook format.

 

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This entry was posted in Detective novel, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction, Mystery, Psychological Mystery, Suspense and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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