Title: The Wolf and The Watchman
Author: Niklas Natt och Dag
Genre: Crime/Scandi Noir
Publisher: Hachette/John Murray
Published: 12th February 2019
Synopsis: Best Debut, The Swedish Academy of Crime Writers’ Award 2017
‘Thrilling, unnerving, clever and beautiful’ Fredrik Backman
The year is 1793, Stockholm. King Gustav of Sweden has been assassinated, years of foreign wars have emptied the treasuries, and the realm is governed by a self-interested elite, leaving its citizens to suffer. On the streets, malcontent and paranoia abound.
A body is found in the city’s swamp by a watchman, Mickel Cardell, and the case is handed over to investigator Cecil Winge, who is dying of consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell become embroiled in a brutal world of guttersnipes and thieves, mercenaries and madams, and one death will expose a city rotten with corruption beneath its powdered and painted veneer.
THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN depicts the capacity for cruelty in the name of survival or greed – but also the capacity for love, friendship, and the desire for a better world.
The mystery that The Wolf the Watchman follows is both complex and strange – it follows Mickel Cardell and Winge after Mickel finds a torso in the river, Anna Stina, a young woman trying to find her way out of poverty and who finds herself in a position she never imagined she’d be in, and Kristofer Blix, whose path will eventually cross with Anna’s, and their lives will be changed forever.
They all have goals and dreams that are changed over the course of the novel, and each part weaves back and forth between their perspectives – creating a dense and complicated story where anxiety seems to be lurking around every corner. In 1793, things feel less stable following the assassination of the king of Sweden, and threats abound, and people will do whatever they can to survive whatever existence they might be living. It took me a while to read this one, only because there was so much to take in and absorb to get to the end and what felt like the solving of the mystery, but at the same time, maybe not quite. It’s the kind of book one needs to dedicate time and attention to because of the density of the plot and characters, and the way everything connects together.
The mystery of the body in the river is the impetus for the story, and it is woven through as each character and their story becomes clearer throughout the book. As I said before, it is dense and very involved, and needs quite a bit of attention to get through this meandering, and thrilling story as the characters travel across an eighteenth century Sweden during a time when people are trying to survive, and when people’s capacity for cruelty or love is shown through the actions and sacrifices they are willing to make for people they barely know, taking advantage of the law and others.
I enjoyed this mystery, a very different story to what I usually read. Translations into English can often be denser, depending on the story, and in this case, it benefits the story and enhances the characters and their actions. Be sure to pay attention as best you can to absorb everything you need to know.