Book Review: The Demon of Dakar by Kjell Eriksson

Demon  The Demon of Dakar

By Kjell Eriksson, translated by Ebba Segerberg. Minotaur.

Dakar is a restaurant in downtown Uppsala, owned by Slobodan Anderson – a larger than life figure – and funded by very dubious money. Manuel is a youngish Mexican man. Two of his brothers have escaped the hard life of their village by becoming involved in an international drug-running ring. One of them, Angel, has been killed in Germany and the other, Patrico, has been caught and imprisoned in Sweden, so Manuel plans to find Patrico and bring him home. He sets off on his long journey with an innocent hope that seems bound to lead to crashing disappointment.

Eva Willman is a ground-down woman – she’s divorced her good-for-nothing husband and is raising her two teenage sons on her own. The family lives in a run-down apartment block, and as the novel opens Eva has just lost her longstanding job in the local post office as part of a national rationalisation programme. She wonders how the old people will cope in collecting their pensions, and whether they will be lonely – for many of them their weekly chat with “the post office lady” was the height of their social life. After being somewhat needled by her friend and neighbour Helen, Eva decides to follow up a suggestion made to her by Patrick, her elder son, and go for a change of career. His friend’s mother works at Dakar, and has heard there’s a vacancy for a waitress. After some doubts, Eva applies and, to her surprise, gets the job- which despite its meagre pay, she enjoys very much.

Eva soon has even more to worry about as Patrick does not come home one night. It is all over the news that a man has been wounded after being attacked by a gang of teenagers. To Eva’s shock, the police come round to her flat to ask about the boy’s whereabouts; Eva covers up for him, but is terrified that he’s involved in gangs and drugs, and roundly tells him off when the police have departed.

Ann Lindell and her team of Uppsala police soon have more serious matters on their hands when a body is found in a nearby river. The victim has had what seems to have been a tattoo removed from his upper arm, and this is the clue that begins the slow process of uncovering a drug-smuggling operation. The reader knows the identity of the perpetrator and the victim early on in the book as the police stumble around trying to connect up the dots. (This device is used effectively by the author in this and previous books.)

Manuel, in the meantime, has visited his brother Patrico in prison, learning more about the death of Angel and that Patrico’s “employers” (the dealers) had promised to send his family $10,000 for his role in the drug operation. Naturally, they haven’t come good on their promise, even though Patrico has remained silent throughout his trial and sentence. Manuel determines to find the men and force them to pay up. Again, we are convinced that this innocent in a strange country is bound to land himself in dangerous trouble by this plan.

As well as being a good thriller, this book has a great character – Eva. Her thoughts and actions within her little family, her neighbours in the grotty apartment building and among her new colleagues at Dakar are truly endearing and sharp, without being at all sentimental. Manuel, also, is an unusual and strangely attractive creation.

I enjoyed reading this book and seeing how the various narratives joined up, and how the police eventually cotton on to what is happening and try to sew up their case. I thought, however, that the initially promising character of Slobodan Anderson, the “drug lord”, turned out weakly  – he seems to tread water for a large part of the book rather than dealing with his situation, which seems to me incompatible with his “drug baron” status. That’s a minor flaw, though – The Demon of Dakar is a very good, rounded read. It is best enjoyed after reading the previous titles in the series  – so far available in English are The Princess of Burundi and The Cruel Stars of the Night , though there are earlier novels that have not yet been translated. The three that have so far been translated into English are American editions; there is not (yet?) a UK publisher for these books.

Read other reviews of The Demon of Dakar at International Crime Fiction and Mysterious Reviews.