Translated by Elizabeth Clark Wessel — Oh boy. The new year has barely started and already it seems like I’ve found my top book of 2022. Hans Rosenfeldt is an author putting the ‘noir’ into Nordic noir with a novel that features fallible characters who make bad decisions hoping to better their lives, a deadly assassin whose powers appear to be waning, and a jaded cop whose best years are behind her. Or so she thinks. There are serious ups – and serious downs – ahead for police woman Hannah Wester in Haparanda, the city in northern Sweden where Russian contraband enters Scandinavia via Finland.
Even if you don’t read much crime fiction, you’ve probably come across Hans Rosenfeldt’s work in the past. He was one of the creators of the crime drama The Bridge, as well as Marcella, the Scandi-Brit production on Netflix. Working with Michael Hjorth, Rosenfeldt also co-wrote the Sebastian Bergman series of books which became a television series as well, and in the past we’ve reviewed The Man Who Watched Women and Sebastian Bergman. Cry Wolf is Hans Roselfeldt’s debut as a solo crime author, but he’s no rookie and is an excellent storyteller.
The book does indeed begin with a wolf. She and her cub have been abandoned by the pack. Slowed by the poison they’ve eaten, they survive another day by eating some carrion flesh as they trudge towards their inevitable deaths on the Swedish-Finnish border.
Their bodies are found and at first it seems a telling-off is in order for the grumpy old hermit who lives in the woods and has a reputation for poisoning game. However, the autopsies of the wolves reveal that their last meal was human flesh. This is a bizarre twist that Hannah Wester and the Haparanda police chief Gordon Backman Niska didn’t see coming. With human remains out there somewhere, they launch a bigger investigation and are forced to call in homicide help from the city of Luleå.
There is so much going on that they don’t know about, and it’s delightful reading as Roselfeldt puts his plot elements in place. There’s been a massive gun battle between Finnish and Russian drug traffickers just over the border, which the Finnish police are picking over. Someone has double-crossed both gangs and stolen a bag of drugs worth millions of kroner along with €300,000. A Russian assassin called Katja has been dispatched to Haparanda, the town nearest the altercation, with two clear orders: 1 – get the bags and return them; 2 – kill whoever took them.
However, a random act of noir-ness has occurred. While making his getaway with the loot, the double-crosser has been run over by dopey ex-con Kenneth, who lives in a rural cottage with his prison guard girlfriend, Sandra. Unlike Kenneth, Sandra has her head screwed on. They only have her income so if they start spending money like crazy it will eventually be noticed by the police and/or anyone looking for the bags. And Kenneth can’t face another spell inside for dealing. So they stash the bags and try to sit tight, while dreaming of future holidays on the beach. Still… there’s always the temptation to spend a little and shift the drugs.
All they need to do is get rid of the car Kenneth was driving when he killed the man. They know the heat is on because the body has been discovered and despite wolf nibbles, Hannah, Gordon and co know that a crime has been committed. The police also find out about the missing drugs.
That’s just the set-up. There is plenty more to get your teeth into with Cry Wolf. On the action side, posing as Louise Anderson in a blonde wig, Katja is bringing a whirlwind of violence to Haparanda as she hunts down local dealers who she thinks may have stolen her boss’s property. Plus, the Russians have not one but two moles in the Haparanda police building.
On the character side, all sorts of interesting things are going on. Hannah Wester is the lead and while she relishes the mystery of the dead drug thief, other aspects of police work – such as firearms proficiency – bore her. She is also going through menopause. Her husband, Thomas, has lost interest in her, so she is having an affair with her boss, Gordon. However, deeper down, Thomas and Hannah both have bigger issues to cope with.
Katja too has a back story. She’s an assassin who could easily have stepped right out of a Richard Stark novel. Methodical. Decisive. Deadly. Beautiful. Taken from her abusive parents at a young age, she was trained in the arts of deception and killing by a secret Russian unit. Now she works for a man called Uncle, who hires her out when oligarchs and/or gangsters need someone to disappear. In her killing prime and as confident as Achilles, she can’t work out why those dirty bags of drugs keep eluding her.
If there’s one flaw in Cry Wolf, it’s that seasoned crime fiction lovers will see the big plot twist coming quite early on, though having said that there’s a certain satisfaction that comes with being proven right. And other than that, this is a riveting novel bringing together the wild and rugged sense of isolation found in the best Swedish crime fiction with the moral dilemmas inflamed by human fallibility of a classic noir novel. A superb read and an entertaining opener to a new series.
If you haven’t tried it yet, The Crow Girl by Erik Axl Sund is an excellent Scandinavian crime novel with a different focus to Cry Wolf.
CFL Rating: 5 Stars