My first Jungstedt read after hearing incredible amounts of praise for her work. Fancy knowing what I thought of it?
I read most of the book on a train journey home with a very bad throat (hence the liquorice) and a strong desire to be home. This is the sort of book that can engross you and eat up your afternoon while you sip tea and wrap a cozy around your legs (can you tell I can’t wait for fall to actually be here?) so my journey passed quickly and painlessly.
Let’s get the technical aspects of the book out of the way: Unseen is Jungstedt’s first book as well as the first in a series of five about inspector Knutas and the journalist Johan Berg. Jungstedt was a journalist herself, which gives this character a special depth we will be touching on later. As you might have already gathered, I place a lot of importance on the edition of the book: how it feels in my hands, how easy it is to read and all those things that can make your reading experience so much better without you even noticing. The edition I have is by Corgi and it’s wonderful. The book feels light but it’s of a decent size and the font is, thank god, big and legible enough.
Onto the story: It’s set in the island of Gotland and, as usual with Swedish writers, especially women, Jungstedt manages to create a unique atmosphere that makes you feel acquainted with it, like an old vacationing town you’re just faintly remembering. She writes plainly but her story and characters don’t suffer for it, au contraire. The pace is steady but certain and the characters are unapologetic in their reality. I almost caught myself saying Knutas is not the typical detective but that wouldn’t be true: in the realm of Swedish writers the atypical, the plain and real becomes the norm. Knutas is an atypical hero but a real one, threading a very fine line without devolving into an unsympathetic character like Mankell’s Wallander.
Even though the pace and characters are well-crafted, the book does have its limitations: the story is a bit predictable and has a run of the mill feeling to it but those weren’t major flaws. Most importantly, I didn’t feel like the killer’s motivation held enough water. The killer himself was the least interesting character in the novel, an oddity in this type of fiction, which excels in exploring the dark recesses of the human psyche. In short, the author succeeds at creating well-rounded characters and enticing story lines except for the character and story line that matter the most: the killer and his killing.
Those shortcomings aside, I really enjoyed Jungstedt’s writing and style. The book had its merits and any flaws can be attributed to the fact it’s the author first book and, understandably, her style hasn’t completely evolved. I expect her to explore her limits and step out of her comfort zone in future works. I’ve already ordered the second Anders Knutas mystery so I will be able to tell you soon!
Have you read any of Mari Jungstedt’s books? What did you think?