For some considerable time, cognoscenti of the best in Scandinavian crime fiction have been well aware that Mari Jungstedt’s Inspector Knutas novels are among the most rarefied and satisfying pleasures afforded by the field, and that the Stockholm-based writer has a total command of character and menace. Her books (set on the island of Gotland) are unique in their steady accumulation of minatory atmosphere; what’s more Jungstedt has a fresh take on the traditionally-based utilisation of classic police procedural techniques. In The Killer’s Art, a battered and naked corpse is found in the pretty port town of Visby, hanging upside down from the town’s so-called ‘gate of love’. The body is that of an art dealer, Egon Wallin (hence, perhaps, the bizarre ‘framing’ in the gate), and it falls to the tenacious Inspector Knutas to discover why this very public murder has taken place. The dead man has recently been divorced and has begun a new relationship. Then a painting by a hot new artist is stolen from the murdered dealer’s gallery in Stockholm; is there a connection between the murder and the theft? The investigation leads Knutas into a fascinating trawl through the glittering world of art society, where (the detective is to find) wealth does not remove the need for violent action in the pursuit of an implacable goal.
The Killer’s Art is a classic demonstration of just why Mari Jungstedt is held in such high esteem; in Tiina Nunally’s adroit translation, the prose has a stripped-down, utterly functional quality that is perfectly at the service of the carefully orchestrated plot. Writers such as Henning Mankell may outsell Jungstedt in the UK, but — if there is any justice — she will not remain caviar to the general. As several respected critics throughout the world have noted, her books are the equal of most of her contemporaries (and, in some cases, they are considerably more accomplished).
The Killer’s Art is published by Corgi