The Wolf and the Watchman - Niklas Natt och Dag

In chaos theory, there is something called the butterfly effect. The idea is that one small action can greatly affect the outcome of a later, seemingly unrelated event. This novel is full of little moments that show how one person’s decision can permanently alter the lives of others.

 

The year is 1793 & Stockholm is a city on edge. Rebellion by lower classes in countries such as France have made the Swedish elite a tad nervous, especially after the murder of King Gustav III. This is the backdrop for a story of 4 people living separate lives until a single event causes their paths to cross. All it takes is the discovery of a mutilated body.

 

Mickel Cardell returned from the war with shattered nerves & one less arm. Now he’s a watchman….when he can be bothered to get up off his barstool. That’s where 2 youngsters find him one night with news of a floater in the lake. But the body Mickel “rescues” is not exactly what he expected. In fact, it’s not even really a body. Just a torso….no arms, no legs.

 

Cecil Winge is a lawyer who works as a consultant with the Swedish police. He’s an intelligent & private man who has fought for progressive changes to the legal system. He’s also dying from consumption. So it’s no wonder he feels a sense of urgency about his latest case….to give a name to the unidentified torso & find a killer.

 

Kristofer Blix is a handsome farm boy who heads to Stockholm with dreams of becoming a doctor. He soon realizes how unprepared he is for life in the big city but could never have imagined where it will lead.

 

Anna-Stina’s young life has been full of poverty & struggle. And it’s about to get worse. If she wants something better she’ll have to be brave, smart & resourceful. Thankfully, she has those things in spades.

 

At its heart this is an engrossing murder investigation but as we meet & get to know the 4 MC’s, it becomes so much more. Their personal stories add depth & guarantee you become as invested in them as you are in solving the mystery surrounding the torso. The historical setting, political situation, class system & living conditions are so well rendered that sometimes it feels all too real.

 

I finished this a while ago & have been struggling to write a review that does it justice. Even the rating was a challenge. If I look at it purely as entertainment, I can’t say I enjoyed every part. There are passages that are difficult, even revolting to read. But here’s the thing. Life for many people at that time WAS difficult & revolting to our modern sensibilities. It was about survival. And the reason you feel these emotions so keenly is all down to the author’s skills as a story teller.

 

He has an extraordinary ability to write prose that completely envelops you. You feel everything as you follow these characters. Fear, anger, frustration, grief & scattered glimmers of hope. All your senses are engaged. Yes, there are scenes that made me want to look away but I couldn’t. I cared deeply for these people & carried the book with me to read every chance I got.

 

Soooo…by now you probably figured out this will not be found under “Cozies”. Sometimes when I’m asked about my last couple of reads, I struggle to remember names & plot details. This is a visceral & haunting story that has stayed with me. The ability to transport a reader to another time & place is a gift & I look forward to the author’s next book. But maybe I’ll have a wee beverage before cracking the cover.