Book review: Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth Rosenfeldt

Sebastian Bergman
by Michael Hjorth and Hans Rosenfeldt
translated by Marlaine Delargy
Trapdoor/Little, Brown 2012
first published in Sweden 2010
Sebastian Bergman #1

Sebastian Bergman is a slightly overweight, messed up criminal psychologist. He has not practised or done any work for about 6 years, since a devastating personal tragedy. He has a recurring terrible dream, and having tried abusing prescription drugs and alcohol, he’s settled into being a sex addict. He’s very good at seducing 40-something women and abandoning them before the next morning.

Yet Sebastian is a likeable chap, and one whom the reader wishes to know better. His mother has died before the novel opens, so Sebastian travels to her house in Vasteras (a “polite” small town in Sweden) to sell up. He did not get on with his parents, to the extent that he does not want to know how his mother died, and has not attended her funeral. While roaming round the house one night, he finds some letters written to his mother thirty years ago: letters that change his life.

In parallel with Sebastian’s story, a murder has taken place. Sixteen-year-old Roger Eriksson has gone missing. Because of the incompetence of the local police, nobody begins to look for the boy for a few days, whereupon his body is found in a lake – and drowning was not the cause of death. Internal police politics ensure that a small specialist team from Riksmond, led by Torkel Hoglund, is bought in to take over the investigation.

Vasteras is a small place, so Sebastian becomes aware of the investigation when he witnesses the delinquent son of his neighbour running across his garden, away from the police who want to question him. It turns out that Sebastian is an old colleague of Torkel, and that the two men have helped each other through some difficult personal times in the past. Sebastian isn’t in the least interested in helping with the murder case, but calls in favours to get himself on the team and, he hopes, access to the police computers which will help him track down the information in the letters he has found.

The juxtaposition of the police investigation, which brings up more and more nasty secrets of small-town life, and the unwelcome Sebastian’s contributions, make an interesting and unusual tale. After the chapters outlining the set-up, the action slows down considerably as the police follow up boring and useless leads, but the personalities of the local and specialist police-force make up for this lack of pace. Sebastian himself is a fascinating character, as he gradually becomes drawn into the investigation despite himself, and finds some degree of rehabilitation in doing so. In the end, he’s left as a bit of a frustrating enigma, doubtless to be explored further in future books. I look forward to reading them, not least because of Marlaine Delargy’s characteristically excellent translation.


I bought this book.

Sebastian Bergman has been made into a TV series, together with the second (as yet untranslated) book – the authors are TV producers. The first episode tells the story of the book I’ve reviewed here. Although the TV show sticks to the plot of the book, it is far more superficial (and violent), and the character of Sebastian exaggerated almost to caricature. The show is reviewed here by Mrs Peabody. I much preferred the book!

Although the book has been available to purchase for a while, I can’t find any (proper) reviews of it (even Amazon UK only has one), though there are lots of reviews of the TV show out there. (A search of Trapdoor’s or Little, Brown’s websites does not turn up the book, either!) There is some reader discussion at GoodReads, mostly in Swedish.

7 thoughts on “Book review: Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth Rosenfeldt

  1. I haven’t seen the TV series which I think I will watch first before reading the book. I know this isn’t the usual way around but I’m slightly more interested in seeing the series. But thanks for reviewing the book – as you say it’s not really been publicised much.

  2. Maxine – This sounds really interesting! I always really respect an author who can create a complex character such as that of Sebastian Bergman. And the two stories in this novel sounds like they’re woven together in an effective way. I’m glad you enjoyed this one; it certainly sounds as though Hjorth and Rosenfeldt have created an unusual and interesting protagonist.

  3. Great review Maxine. Like you I watched the TV adaptation which was broadcast in May but have recently purchased the paperback as I hoped the book would be better (it’s not often I say that about Scandinavian crime dramatisations!). Glad to see my instinct was right and good to see you praising the translation.

  4. I must admit I nearly purchased the DVDs of the series but was put off by some of your earlier comments (I mean that in a good way – didn’t want to buy rubbish). I am a mite more interested in the book though so may track this one down in a bit – got to get that TBR pile under control first.

  5. Pingback: Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth Rosenfeldt | Petrona Book Reviews archive

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