Free Falling, As If In a Dream by Leif GW Persson, translated by Paul Norlen
Knopf, February 2014
Originally published as Faller fritt som i en dröm, 2007
Story of a Crime: The End of the Welfare State book 3
Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.
I’m new to Persson’s work so I’m not sure how this book compares to the rest of his work, but this particular novel is unlike any other crime novel I’ve read. First, it’s a doorstop. It’s an ambitious book about the huge undertaking of reevaluating the murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme over 20 years after the fact. Lars Martin Johannsson, a man on the cusp of retirement, brings together a team of three investigators, two women and a man who was on the original investigatory team, ostensibly to reevaluate how to catalog the binders upon binders of information about the investigation and its multiple tracks. Really, it’s a chance to get at the case one last time before he retires (he spent time as head of SePo, the Swedish Security Police, too).
It’s a police procedural about process, and I was constantly reminded during the first half of the book why I prefer fiction to unformed narratives that I’ve run across at work, etc: I need a narrative arc. Reading reports bogs me down, and I felt bogged down in the first half of the book.
Evert Bäckström, an overly racist and discriminatory character on all fronts, also appears as both a bit of comic relief and as a commentary on the police culture and the investigation. All in all the book is a devastating portrait of the police and the secret police who pursued the investigation into Palme’s murder in a number of unfruitful tracks.
Another reason why this story is so different than crime novels I’ve read is that it feels true-crime-y. I’m not sure what research material Persson used and how much of the story is based on fact. It’s heavy and philosophical too. Balancing out the heaviness is some conspiracy thriller stuff, and really, the last half of the book is very gripping. It also happens to be quite critical of those involved in the police and the secret police, and that’s the overwhelming takeaway of the book. Of course I wonder if Persson’s theory about who killed Palme is anywhere near the truth too.
I’ve read quite a few long books lately, so while I have the first Persson book waiting on my shelves, I think I’ll pass on it until after I tackle some shorter stuff in the immediate future.