Book review: Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G W Persson


Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End
by Leif G W Persson
translated by Paul Norlen
Black Swan/Transworld 2010
first published in Sweden 2002
Johansson/Jarenberg #1

At my second attempt, I have completed this tome of more than 600 pages, a book that in some senses precedes Another Time, Another Life by the same author, which I read recently and very much enjoyed.

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End tells the story of the apparent suicide of an American student, John Krasser, by jumping from a window in Stockholm. There are several witnesses to this event, some of whom note that the victim’s second shoe fell to the ground some seconds after he did.

The first description of the crime involves the police investigation, whose aim is simply to deal with it as quickly as possible and write it up as completed. Here we see the police force in all its self-interested glory, as officers play the system to their own ends in the knowledge that colleagues will cover up for them.

The ripples of the crime spread out in a gradually more complex way. Sweden’s police force has secret operations within it – one of these operations is charged with drawing up lists of possible terrorists and other threats to national security, in those days mainly the Kurds and right-wing elements within the police. One has the sense that this operation is mainly designed to protect the status-quo, with a few extremists and hotheads being front men for a deeper, more sinister conspiracy. The apparent suicide of Krasser becomes a significant part of this operation.

In another parallel development, a secret message that Krasser had written to a well-known cop, Lars Martin Johansson, emerges after his death. Johansson is portrayed as the epitome of the Swedish police force in his calm, taciturn, intelligent and apparently incorruptible personality. He gets drawn into the investigation, using a trip to an FBI training course in the USA to find out more about Krasser and his activities.

As well as these various elliptical descriptions of the aftermath of Krasser’s death, the book is split into several parts describing Swedish internal politics since the end of the Second World War, and its role on the international stage at at time when the country was intimidated by the Soviet Union’s growth but without allies in the West who remembered all too well Sweden’s wartime Nazi sympathies. Towards the end of the book, Johansson comes into contact with a book that Krasser was researching, and after some procrastination, reads the draft. This draft provides the core of the story and tells the reader what is truly going on, pretty much.

Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End is a depressing, leaden and grim read. It was a struggle to complete the book as it is so fragmented and contains so many unpleasant characters. Yet there is a fascination to it, mainly its focus on international cold-war politics at the time (the 1950s to the mid-1980s) and how Swedish society adapted to it in a deeply corrupt manner. I can’t say I enjoyed this book, and did not like it as much as I did Another Time, Another Life (which covers 1975 to the turn of the millennium, and which can be appreciated without having read this one first), but I am glad I read it, and can see that it is an achievement, particularly within Sweden, to have written such a self-critical, even self-loathing, book.

I bought this book.

Other reviews of it are at: Crime Scraps (and here), Shade Point, The Independent, To Be Read, and a further collection at The Complete Review.

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21 thoughts on “Book review: Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G W Persson

  1. I tried to read this once, too, and have seen several positive reviews from bloggers I trust, but it’s hard to find it appealing — saving for a time when I need a challenging read.

  2. Great review, as always. Think I’ll hold off on reading this. In the time it would take me to read the 600-page tome, I could read 2 or 3 other books. The second one sounds better.

  3. Maxine – Thanks as ever for the thoughtful and excellent review. I know precisely what you mean about a book that one’s glad to have read although it’s sad and bleak. I am interested in the historical/political aspects of this novel and will probably read it when I’m ready for a bleak read.

  4. I have book 2 in this trilogy which based on your reviews I will read first. If I like it, I’ll get a copy of this one.

  5. Thanks for the comments, everyone. I do feel a bit as if I deserve a medal for reading this (!) – despite its length the bit where one discovers exactly why a particular shocking event happened, and how, is fast-paced because the author leaves it until the very last part of the book. Also the solution to the Krasser case is quite Sjowall/Wahloo-like, in the end.

  6. Maxine you deserve a medal for getting through this one. Well done! I was wary of starting book two, but that was so much better I am now looking forward to reading more from Prof Persson.

    • Thanks, Norman, I’ve received a few tweets from Neil Smith who is translating the next one (Linda is in the title). I am not sure if it is part of this trilogy but apparently Backstrom plays a big role.

  7. Maxine,Like you ,I can’t say that I enjoyed this book. I found the misogyny
    -relentless and overcooked..

    • Agreed on the misogyny, Simon, that is mainly why I gave up on it the first time, but I made a determined effort to ignore it this time, as I knew from his next book that the author himself isn’t one – but what awful characters in that regard (as well as others)!

      • I finished this, and loathed it – reading fast can be an advantage, but I didn’t enjoy the experience. And yes, the misogyny was horrible. I know the author’s not that bad himself, but I’m not sure that such fiction, even to make a political point, is actually necessary.

        • Maybe it’s true? He does seem to know an awful lot about the way the police work. If you haven’t read Another Time, Another Life, and have any inclination to (!), you’ll find it refreshingly different from that perspective as the women cops in it show up the males in various ways.

          • I should have said “such attitudes in fiction” rather than such fiction – I’m not arguing against publishing material I don”t like! It may well be true, but I think there’s a rather fine line between historical accuracy and/or accurate descriptions in the name of making a political or social point and glorifying or being a bit nostalgic about pretty ugly attitudes, and for me this book falls on the wrong side. (Rather like the TV show “Mad Men”, for me, at least sometimes.)

            • Oh, and I haven’t read Another Time, Another Life, but I have read “The Dying Detective” (in German – I don’t think it’s been translated into English), which is also about Johansson. I rather liked it, more because it’s a bit of a riff on Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Judge and His Hangman than for the social critique. Oh, and the fact that Bäckström only plays a minor role didn’t hurt! So I’m not writing off the author, but I had a really bad reaction to Between Summer. All but his very first book are available in German, so I might get around to reading more in the future, even if the ones from 1979/82 are likely to be a pretty hard sell for me!

            • thanks for both your comments, Lauren. I can’t disagree with you on the unpleasant aspects, particularly the misogyny, in BSLAWE – it’s why I could not get through it the first time, as well as the scrappy structure. I just wonder to what extent the author thinks he’s writing fiction and to what extent an expose.
              Thanks also for the update about The Dying Detective – sounds as if it is worth a read if it is ever translated. The two that have been translated are so different in tone, structure and (though both are equally cynical) message that it is hard to judge the author’s output, without more examples of it.

  8. Maxine the trilogy ends with “Falling Freely as if in a dream” out this year I think. The Linda book is part of the Backstrom series! A series of books devoted to that horrid character should be interesting.

  9. Saw your comment on FF about Cornelia Read. I concur with other readers: The first book in the series was excellent, the second was good. The third was a bit contrived. Now the recently published book looks like a good read, so I am going to read it.
    Also, Cornelia Read is a very honest and direct person, who says what she thinks. I’ve read and heard interviews with her and find her smart, sharp, delightful and witty.

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