Author: Karin Alvtegen
Reviewed By: Tanya King
Karin Alvetegen’s biography provided by the publishing house states that she is the great-niece of the author of Pippi Longstocking. Don’t start reading this complex and grim novel with that smiling protagonist in mind – there is a dearth of pigtails, striped stockings or light-hearted romps in Shadow.
Shadow starts heart-wrenchingly with a small boy left at an amusement park. Forgotten? Abandoned? No answers are provided as we fast-forward thirty years. Each chapter is written from a different character’s point of view. Through their eyes, we learn of the death of the long-serving housekeeper of one of Sweden’s most admired and beloved authors, Axel Ragnerfeldt. As the story slowly unfolds, the reader is provided with intimate and at times highly uncomfortable insights into each character – Jan-Erik, Axel’s son, who has become rich living off his father’s legacy; Louise, Jan-Erik’s neglected wife; Alice, Axel’s bitter alcoholic wife, and Kristoffer, the boy forgotten at the amusement park.
Shadow is not written as a traditional crime novel. Like many crime novels, it explores human relationships, but Alvetegen’s emphasis is deeper and darker; the crime itself is almost an aside. Alvetegen explores the slow dissolve of once passionate relationships, the cold emptiness left in place of hot passion and the mistakes repeated from one generation to the next. Her characters are exquisitely drawn, nearly all with some sort of addiction, predominantly alcohol. When the crime finally makes an appearance, the reader is jolted. As soon as it occurs, the answers fall into place, and the ending, while incredibly dark, is not wholly unexpected. Other mysteries are not complete surprises either, but none of this detracts from the novel. This is a carefully constructed novel with a strong pace which keeps the reader intrigued throughout its uncomfortable journey.