Book review: Sail of Stone by Åke Edwardson

Sail of Stone
by Åke Edwardson
translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles
Simon & Schuster, 2012 (US edition)
First published in Sweden, 2002.
Chief Inspector Erik Winter #6

Sail of Stone is a book of two parts: a rather mystical, music-name-checking-heavy first half in which nothing much happens; and a more down-to-earth, faster-moving second half. Following the tradition set in earlier books, there are two main plots in Sail of Stone. In both of them, it is not clear whether a crime has been committed, consequently much time is taken up with obfuscation, hesitation and ponderings as to whether there is even an investigation to be undertaken.

Both storylines involve Gothenburg’s team of police detectives. In one, Aneta Djanali follows up a neighbours’ report of possible spousal abuse in the downmarket area of Kortedala. The woman concerned, Anette Lindsten, will not open the door, and when Aneta returns later to allay her feelings of unease, she encounters a bizarre scene. It becomes Aneta’s mission to find Anette and discover what is happening to her and who is responsible, questions that are frustratingly intangible but which lead in unpredictable directions. During her investigation, Aneta reflects on her African heritage – her parents were immigrants from the Upper Volta, a country that since changed its name to Burkina Faso – and also continues her relationship with her colleague, the widower Fredrik Halders, a touching sub-plot.

The other storyline concerns Erik Winter, who is more concerned with buying a piece of land by the sea and building a house for his partner Angela and their daughter Elsa, than in his work. (This is a change of character caused by dramatic incidents in a previous novel, Frozen Tracks.) However, when an old girlfriend who lives on an island on the archipelago contacts him because her father has gone missing in Scotland, Erik eventually decides to act. After much introspection, he contacts his old friend Steve Macdonald from the Met; the two men, together with their partners, travel to Scotland to unravel the mystery.

Åke Edwardson’s novels are idiosyncratic. The separate stories are told in paragraphs within a chapter, together with what seem to be random paragraphs about un-named people (at least one of whom seems mad). In addition, several characters in Sail of Stone have the same, or a very similar, name. This can be a disorienting experience for the reader, and together with elements such as all the music references and the various reflections on sea, stone and sail, make the first half of the book seem a little self-indulgent. One advantage of this style, however, is that the atmosphere of Gothenburg is extremely well-depicted, and is a most enjoyable component of the novel.

The second half of the book is in many ways much more satisfactory, in that things actually happen and reader becomes genuinely involved in how both stories will pan out. However, it skates over many obvious questions, particularly in Aneta’s investigation, in which she does no checking of the characters she encounters, nor does she interview any of the neighbours who have allegedly observed and reported the problems. The ending of the book is disappointing in that the resolutions take only a couple of pages, which feels too truncated after such a long preamble and build-up. Despite its discursive, leisurely nature, Sail of Stone is a very enjoyable book for all the reasons I’ve given; because of the excellent translation; and because of its evocative descriptions of the sea and of the fishermen’s trade.

A note about the order of the series and my reading of it: the first books to be translated were Sun and Shadow (#3), Never End (#4) and Frozen Tracks (#5). (Click on the titles to read my reviews at Euro Crime.) Then, the first two books, Death Angels (#1) and Shadow Woman (#2) were translated and published. Because reviews of these books were mixed and because I did not feel that enthusiastic about going backwards in the series, I haven’t read these. I hope that future books in the series will be translated in chronological order! (The next up is Room No. 10 (#7), so it looks as if my wish is granted in the short term, at least.)

I thank Barbara Fister for so kindly sending me this book. Her review of it is at Reviewing the Evidence.

Other reviews of Sail of Stone are at: International Noir Fiction and Nordic Bookblog.

9 thoughts on “Book review: Sail of Stone by Åke Edwardson

  1. This book is STILL on my TBR pile which is a shame as have enjoyed Edwardson’s previous books. Despite its apparent flaws which you’ve mentioned in your review I think I’m likely to enjoy reading it. It just takes me a while to get around to things. I am finally reading ‘Bone and Cane’ at the moment and enjoying it. It’s a little bit different which I like.

  2. I liked Frozen Tracks which is the only one I have read – I am learning to cope with reading out of order. Can’t decide if I will go on to read this one though – I have sooooooo many books calling to me (great position to be in I suppose, better than nothing to read)

  3. Thanks for another excellent review. I’ll have to weigh and measure these book recommendations as I stagger under the oncoming avalanche of the TBR stack.

  4. Maxine – Thanks for the excellent review as ever. Interesting how the two halves of this novel are so different; I’m glad the second half pulled things together a bit for you. And please don’t get me started on Translated Out Of Order (TOOO) Syndrome. So frustrating! I’m not surprised you’ve not yet read those first two.

  5. Excellent review – and a good description of what made this book puzzling, pleasing, and at times not at all satisfying!

  6. Self-indulgent? I think that is a fairly precise evaluation of his recent books 😉
    I really enjoyed the first handful, but the pace is slower and slower, and as far as I remember, I gave up reviewing Room No 10 – if I finished it at all? He is a good writer, but I think Håkan Nesser is much better at keeping the reader interested in the characters so even when his plots are slow, I just love following their development.

  7. Thanks, everyone. I’ve been away for a few days, hence lack of responses.Possibly this one is for Scadinavian crime fiction completists, but there are strengths to it.

    Sarah, glad you are enjoying Bone & Cane.

    Bernadette, this one follows straight on from Frozen Tracks (there was a long gap while the first two were published in the interim) so would be a good one to read next, if you are going to continue with him.

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