Swedish author David Lagercrantz is probably best known for taking the mantel of Stieg Larsson to follow up the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Books to deliver a follow up trilogy (The Girl in the Spiders Web, The Girl Who Takes and Eye for an Eye and The Girl Who Lived Twice). So perhaps it is no surprise that his new series (because the ending leaves readers in no doubt that a series is intended) is not entirely original but rather a riff on Sherlock Holmes. Dark Music sees an eccentric, troubled but gifted hyper-observational professor and a young policewoman joining forces to solve a puzzling crime.
Dark Music opens in media res for reasons that are unclear. It is 2003, and the Swedish police have been directed to seek out a professor Hans Rekke to help them solve a murder. The narrative then drops back a few days and finds young detective Micaela Vargas as part of a team investigating the murder of a soccer referee. The man was an Afghani reportedly tortured by the Taliban before being given asylum in Sweden, and the prime suspect is a passionate local who was seen drunkenly threatening the victim during the game. Suffice to say that there is much more to the story, but in getting there Micaela is dropped from the case and only manages to get back on it when she reconnects with Rekke and the two start making some startling discoveries about the victim and his past in Afghanistan.
Crime fiction is a careful balance between character, plot and narrative and in Dark Music Lagercrantz has got this balance all wrong. He spends almost half of the novel introducing Vargas and Rekke, giving little reason for the reader to care about the victim and the crime itself. As the mystery unfolds it does so in a static way with Vargas and Rekke sitting in an apartment surfing the internet, making phonecalls and drawing deductions. There is little tension and less drive. The only thing that keeps the enterprise afloat at all is the central conceit of the plot which is connected to the actions of the Taliban and the American response to 9/11.
Hans Rekke is a wealthy, super intelligent dilettante who is addicted to drugs and plays a musical instrument (the piano), he cannot help making detailed and surprisingly correct observations about people he meets based on the slimmest of evidence and he has a brother who is just as frighteningly competent who is high up in the government. He is so much a Sherlock Holmes clone that one of the characters actually calls him out on it at one point. In the way of modern Holmesian pastiches his offsider Vargas has a little more agency than the traditional Doctor Watson. She is a dogged investigator in her own right, unappreciated in the police force as she is young and a woman but also has a troubled past and potentially criminal family.
The background of religious extremism, American terrorist response and the role of presumably neutral countries, a couple of interesting characters and a murder investigation sound like an interesting set up for a crime book. But not this one. Dark Music is for the most part a slog, with most of the mystery solved by flashbacks and exposition and ends with a whimper rather than bang. The last few pages set up future cases for Rekke and Vargas but there is little here to invite readers to return.
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