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The Viper    by Hakan Ostlundh order for
by Hakan Ostlundh
Order:  USA  Can
Minotaur, 2012 (2012)
Hardcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Viper by Swedish author Håkan Östlundh (what is it about Scandinavia that breeds such excellent authors of noir mysteries?) is a Greek tragedy enacted on the island of Gotland, Sweden. The story alternates between the development of the mystery itself and colleagues and family watching one of the prime detectives as he lies in a hospital bed, with the possibility of permanent brain damage.

Arvid Traneus, an amoral and ruthless consultant for an international corporation, has spent the last ten years in Tokyo building the company's fortune and his own. Now he is coming home to Gotland. His wife Kristina dreads his return as Arvid was abusive and she has enjoyed spending time with her lover, Anders, in his long absence. But when Arvid does return, violence explodes in this quiet place. Two bodies are found in the Traneus home - one is Kristina's but the other is so 'ripped to shreds' that it is difficult to make an identification.

Police detective Fredrik Broman and his colleagues investigate. Anders' distraught father quickly arrives on the scene, claiming that Arvid killed his son and Kristina. The police interview Anders' ex-wife and the Traneus children (Elin, a psychology student, and Ricky who lives on Gotland). There's the mystery of what exactly happened to the eldest Traneus child, Stefania, who always stood between her father and her younger siblings - she died many years before. And a young man, recently released from prison, broods over Stefania's fate.

Håkan Östlundh does a fine job of leading readers up the garden path and down again before his atmospheric mystery reaches its surprising conclusion, and we learn how Fredrik Broman ended up in a hospital bed. This author is a welcome addition to the best of Scandinavian mystery writers and I look forward to more of his sound work.

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