Book review: Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg

Death of a Carpet Dealer
by Karin Wahlberg
Stockholm Text e-book, 2012
(first published 2009)
Translated by Neil Betteridge

Death of a Carpet Dealer is mainly set in Oskarshamn, a small coastal town south of Stockholm, from which the ferries to the islands of Oland and Gotland depart and arrive. As the novel opens, however, Carl-Iver Olsson, the titular carpet dealer, is on a rather different ferry, one that travels up and down the Bosphorus to and from Istanbul. And, given the title, it is not giving anything away to reveal that he is discovered to be dead when the time comes for disembarkation.

Chapters alternate from different points of view: the Turkish sections concern two workers on the ferry who may or may not be involved in Olsson’s death; and the Istanbul police, who initially investigate the crime. When it becomes apparent that the victim was Swedish, the Oskarhshamn authorities are informed and dispatch two officers to Istanbul to help and to be present when Olsson’s family identifies his body. After an interlude in Istanbul, most of the action thereafter takes place in Oskarhshamn.

The novel is like a switchback, as events are told from the point of view of several connected characters. One of these is Veronika, a 47-year-old doctor who is about to give birth to her third child, and who has taken an old carpet to Olsson’s shop for repair. The shop is run by Olsson’s niece Annelide, who is married to one of Veronika’s colleagues. Olsson’s wife, soon to be widow, is a nurse at the same hospital, working the night shift. And Veronika’s husband Claes is a senior police inspector who is given the Olsson case. Each character has a chapter to reflect on life and his or her concerns, often seeming rather tangential to the plot, before the subject changes to another one. In this fashion, a mosaic-style picture of life in this country area of Sweden is provided (click on map for larger view).

In the second half of the book, the plot becomes more central as some facts are revealed to the reader that were hitherto unknown, coming to a climax at Olsson’s funeral which ends the book. The pace of the crime investigation is pretty relaxed: the full picture of what’s happened and why becomes apparent gradually because of information that is revealed piece-by-piece from the various characters’ perspectives and actions, rather than by any great detective work or puzzle-solving. Even at the end when the police have worked out who is their main suspect and “stake out” the church before the funeral, the person concerned simply exits through a side door nobody thought to cover, unobserved.

Death of a Carpet Dealer is an engaging book if you don’t mind the type of novel that is more concerned with telling the stories of a range of characters, that spends pages on describing scenes and ways of life (in Turkey and Sweden), and provides plenty of information about, for example, hospital procedures, the rug trade and Turkish culture. It’s a readable concoction – the author is a storyteller in a vein similar to Camilla Lackberg – which easily slips by. It is a rather old-fashioned book but none the less a pleasant, easy (certainly not “literary”) read, even with occasional lapses in grammar and spelling.

I received this book free in a promotion by the publisher.

From the publisher’s website: “Death of a Carpet Dealer is one of the seven Karin Wahlberg books featuring Police Commissioner Claes Claesson and his wife Veronika Lundborg, doctor at Oskarshamn hospital. It is a traditional crime novel based on a concrete crime to be solved – no politics, no unrelated action, but lots of ordinary life around the characters. Wahlberg herself is one of Sweden’s most renowned accoucheurs. Her highly literary reads have sold over 1.5 million copies worldwide.” I believe it is the sixth in the series, even though it is first to appear in English.

Other reviews of this book: Rhapsody in Books and The Crime House.

Wikipedia: list of the series in reading order.

14 thoughts on “Book review: Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg

  1. By the way, an “accoucheur” is someone, eg an obstetrician or a midwife, who assists at births, I discovered when I looked it up in a dictionary.

  2. Sounds quite good fun and I’ve been to both Sweden and Turkey. From your description it doesn’t sound that much like Lackberg – maybe the small town setting/preoccupations. I haven’t heard of this author at all but well look out for her. Do you think we’re slipping to ‘B’ class scandicrime due to the popularity of the genre or do you think this would stand up by itself?

    • The main similarity with Lackberg are the many descriptions of daily life, and the fact that the female main character (a doctor rather than a writer) is married to the policeman — but you are right that the crime elements of the plot are different.
      I think you are right, we are getting the “less good” tranche of translated Swedish crime fiction now based on one or two I’ve read or decided not to read. But most are still as good as most UK or US “middle of the road” crime books, actually better in most cases as they seem to be traditional stories rather than all this awful “slasher stalks detective’s daughter” stuff — with one or two exceptions! But it is nice that books which would not have been translated a few years ago, now are being.

  3. I haven’t been to Sweden but I do have a soft spot for Turkey after spending some time there in the 90’s. In fact I bought my own giant rug there and shipped it home where it has moved with me to my different abodes. I have just this very evening unfurled it after having it professionally cleaned while I moved house, a process which has had me fondly remembering my trip…so I’m inclined to read this book based on your description of the carpet store related shenanigans.

    • We have a similar rug, Bernadette, souvenier of a holiday in Rhodes when some of us (not me) took a ferry to Turkey & returned with a rug and some clothes. We still have the rug, and it is nice……though not quite in the “informal” style of the rest of our house!

  4. Maxine – As always, an excellent review. This does seem like one of those easy-paced novels where the focus is more on the characters than on anything else. Sometimes that works quite well if the characters are really well-developed and interesting to begin with. What interests me about this is that it’s got sections that take place in Turkey and others in Sweden – very different cultures and ways of life. Might definitely be worth a read.

    • Yes, I liked the Turkish parts, too. I thought they ended a bit abruptly, but maybe she will continue the theme (of the two police officers) in the next book.

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