Book review: Anger Mode by Stefan Tegenfalk

Anger Mode
Stefan Tegenfalk
Translated from Swedish by David Evans
Nordic Noir books, 2011 (originally published 2009)

Anger Mode, one of the welcome batch of books from Sweden being published in the UK this year, is certainly packed with themes and incident. The novel begins along traditional lines – a car accident is described in the first chapter on a road near Uppsala. The action then shifts to Stockholm and to the jaded, 30-year veteran police detective Walter Grohn – a cop who breaks all the rules of procedure and political correctness to get his man (or woman), and who gets away with it because his boss is pretty lazy and knows that, by protecting Grohn from censure, he will keep his department looking good, statistics-wise. In addition, Grohn is in mourning for Martine (presumably his wife) and is prone to constant headaches.

There are many apparently disparate elements in the first half of the book. A liberal judge is incensed by an hour-long delay to his train and attacks the taxi-driver who is driving him home from the station. A couple of hoods break into a journalist’s apartment to try to find an incriminating video. A teenage girl infuriates her frayed mother by skipping school – instead the girl goes with a friend to someone’s house to smoke dope – but is injected with an unknown cocktail, leading to bizarre and tragic consequences. Grohn attempts to investigate these crimes but they seem curiously motiveless – a rookie profiler-cop, Jonna de Brugge, is assigned to him as a partner but despite some sharp repartee and small advances, they are getting nowhere when another judge phones the police to say he’s murdered his wife in a jealous rage.

SAPO, the state secret police infamous to readers of crime fiction from Sweden*, steps in to take over the investigation of these crimes. Grohn is unable to prevent this from happening because he’s under investigation for cutting corners on a (successful) drug bust he’s just undertaken – the success being due to his unauthorised access to the drug squad’s list of informers. Grohn collapses in pain and is carted off to hospital for an operation. Undeterred by his suspension and his illness, he begins to put several pieces together when he discovers (by an amazing coincidence!) that the burgled journalist is in the bed next to him. He’s convinced that the SAPO theory of the crimes is completely wrong, and sets out to solve the case by any means he can, aided and abetted by his couple of reluctant accomplices and, later, an equally reluctant computer-hacker who happens to “owe” him (he even admits to himself that he’s “read his Lisbeth Salander”).

Despite the stop-start nature of the narrative – in which many characters are sketched, then disappear – the author gradually exerts quite a grip on the reader, as he cleverly brings together two entirely distinct plots and weaves them inextricably together. It’s simple to guess the motivation for the crimes, but by his constant switching of chapters describing what his core half-dozen characters are doing, the author keeps up the pace and suspense effectively. He is particularly strong in his implicit condemnation of SAPO, whose chief investigator Martin Borg enters the case determined to pin the crimes on Islamic fundamentalists. Borg constructs a theory entirely based on his own preconceptions and by playing on the concerns of his superiors and the prosecutors ostensibly directing the investigation, goes to increasingly desperate extremes to deliver post-hoc evidence that will support his edifice. What then happens is a cataclysmic event that forces the two main stories in the book together and adds in more variants and twists to the mix. There is also a fascinating contrast between the high-tech, well-resourced SAPO approach and the illegal, shoestring operation run by Grohn from hospital.

Anger Mode is first of a trilogy, so there are a few ends left hanging in the air which the author presumably picks up in future volumes: time will tell. (A couple of these are rather clumsily introduced in the final few pages). It’s an exciting and satisfying read, though the staccato style and the regular introducing and then dropping of characters needs a bit of acclimatization. I also find it rather weak when a plot depends on mystery drugs with such 100 per cent accuracy in their actions – not only that but also hackers who use “magic”, albeit well-described, to be able to get into inaccessible databases. But this is definitely a book with something to say about our society, with plenty of humorous and telling asides: I enjoyed it very much, particularly Grohn’s ability to stay one step ahead of all the games, not least in running rings round bureaucrats and other important non-entities. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they are translated.

*For equally unflattering depictions of SAPO, see The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest by Stieg Larsson, Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End by Leif G. W. Persson, Misterioso by Arne Dahl, Three Seconds by Roslund-Hellstrom, and (tangentially), The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell.

Other reviews of Anger Mode: International Noir Fiction, the Crime Segments and The Crime House.

Nordic Noir books, the publisher, provides a website address on the cover of the book (www.nordicnoirbooks.com) which is not (yet?) active. It is an imprint of the Swedish publisher Massolit, whose blog provides a bit more detail about Nordic Noir books and Anger Mode.

Anger Mode’s Facebook page (if you are into Facebook pages, which I’m not as I don’t like “closed” websites).

Anger Mode at Amazon UK, with several, mainly positive, customer reviews.

Olof Palme at Wikipedia.

I purchased my copy of this book.

8 thoughts on “Book review: Anger Mode by Stefan Tegenfalk

  1. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as some other recent reads eg Dregs, Burned, Trackers – but it’s very close! Sorry, Bernadette. I am sure you’ll return the compliment (?) soon enough.

  2. Maxine – Such a thorough and well-written review – thanks! When I first read it, I thought, “SAPO again? I’m not sure I’m interested in this one.” And that magically effective drug also made me wonder. And that lovely coincidence of the journalist in the same hospital room. But then I re-read your post and this really does interest me. There seems to be an undercurrent here that keeps the reader engaged. I’m going to have to try this one…

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