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Her psychological thrillers are set in Sweden. So far four of her books have been translated into English.
Missing was awarded the Glass Key in 2001. Shame was shortlisted for the Crime Writers' Association Duncan Lawrie International Dagger award for crime novels in translation. See also the review of Shadow.
Karin Alvtegen's home page.
Karin Alvtegen is a master of psychological thrillers. In many ways her story-telling reminds me of Karin Fossum sans detective. Her writing style is also similar to that of Inger Frimansson. Alvtegen's plots are masterful. She slowly builds up tension, creating a situation where it more and more becomes very probable; maybe even in a sense feels necessary, that something happens. And even though you expect it, Alvtegen manages to surprise you when it actually happens.
Shadow tells a tale of fame and the high prize sometimes paid for it. It is an utterly compelling novel about the lengths and depths people can be driven in order to achieve fame and acclaim, and the effect that this has on those closest to them.
Marianne Folkesson, employed by the state to close up a life with dignity and respect, arrives in a non-descript apartment. The woman living there, Gerda Persson, has lain dead in her apartment for three days before Marianne is called. When she arrives, she finds the apartment tidy and ordered. Gerda's life seems to have been quite ordinary.
At least, so it seems, until Marianne opens the freezer and finds it full of books, neatly stacked and wrapped, with a thick layer of ice covering them. They are all by Axel Ragnerfeldt, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, with handwritten dedications to Gerda from the author. What story do these books have to tell, about Gerda, and more importantly about Ragnerfeldt, a man whose fame is without precedent in the nation's cultural life, but seldom gives interviews?
Thus the death of the old housemaid of Alex Ragnarfeldt sets in motion events that brings to the fore old skeletons that have for long been hidden in closets and kept out of sight. But the secrets have real implications in the present, among other for the authors son, Jan-Erik, who makes a living by travelling around telling people about the life and work of his father, the famous author. As it turns out, Jan-Erik’s marriage, and ideed his life, is not what it seems, and he himself is a drinker and sex-fixated.
Shadow tells a gripping and somewhat gruesome tale, involving murder, betrayal and the holocaust, with great care and considerable skill. No wonder Shadow won the Danish Academy of Crime Writers´Award "The Palle Rosenkrantz Prize 2008" for Best Crime Novel in Denmark of the year and was Shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers' Award 2007 for Best Swedish Crime Novel of the Year. Shadow is, frankly, frightfully good!
Praise for Karin Alvtegen's Shadow:
"Karin Alvtegen is a gifted storyteller, with a strong sense of style and shades of meaning. She gets under the skin of her characters and portrays them in a credible way. At the core of Shadow is a strong moral indignation and the question of what we do with our lives.” — Norrtelje Tidning
”The violence comes into play late in the novel, but the way leading up to it is well worth trailing in all is perfectly plotted unpredictability.” — Sydsvenskan
Missing, by Karin Alvtegen
Missing grabs the reader from the first page, and doesn't let go until the gruesome end. This fabulous thriller by Karin Alvtegen won Best Scandinavian Crime Novel (previous winners include Peter Hoeg's Miss Smilla and Henning Mankell's Faceless Killers) and Silverpocket Awards in 2002. Missing has enjoyed massive success all over Europe (see also our review of Karin Alvtegen's Betrayal).
Sibylla Forstenström is the daughter of a rich but insensitive merchant and his wife. After a depression and an unwanted pregnancy she flees as an 18 year old girl from her family and the institution where she is kept. Now Sybilla Forsenstrom doesn't exist. For fifteen years she has been excluded from society and, as one of the homeless in Stockholm, she takes each day as it comes, keeping all her possessions in her backpack, including a knife and salami.She is always well-dressed and displays impeccable manners. One night, in The Grand Hotel, she charms a susceptible businessman into paying for her dinner and room. Then, the following morning his dead body is discovered and Sybilla becomes the prime suspect. When a second person is killed in similar circumstances, she becomes the most wanted person in Sweden.
Fearing that her homeless state means she will be considered as guilty, she eludes the cops with some help and begins investigating the homicides together with a young boy. Their inquiries are entertaining nad interesting, as they see the clues differently than the cops. And they display considerable smartness and courage, as well as an uncanny ability to think and act outside the box - sometimes far outside it.
Missing is not only an excellent crime novel and a wonderful, very exciting book. It is also an exploration into the terrifying isolation of a woman who has turned her back on her family and rejected the values of her background. Alvtegen is a sensitive writer with considerable empathy, at the same time as she uses stunningly direct prose in a plot of tremendous pace and nerve. Missing Missing would be a mistake on your part!
In Shame, Karin Alvtegen's exploration of human emotions continues. This time it is the common, perhaps all too common, feeling of Shame that occupies the center stage. Here, as in the other books by Alvtegen, this one emotion is singled out, turned into the primary or most important emotion in the lives of key characters, and inserted into a plot where events trigger responses more or less dictates by the strongly held feelings of the characters.
Like the other books by Karin Alvtegen, this psychological thriller is a book without detectives, policemen or even heroes. Thus it is not really a crime novel, but something else, something more.
The main characters in Shame are two women that on the outside are extremely different. Maj-Britt, one of them, is fat, very fat, and intensely ashamed of her body. She is so over weight that she can no longer function normally, and is she lies down or falls, she cannot get up without assistance. In Shame, the fat on her body in a sense serves as a layer between Maj-Britt and real life. A layer she badly needs. For under the thick layer of shame over her body, Maj-Britt hides another layer of shame, even more damaging - shame associated with event that took place during her youth in a very strict, religious Swedish family, where sex was shameful and a taboo. Maj-Britt is highly intelligent, but has lost interest in contact with others. Instead she uses her intelligence as a weapon to keep people that threaten her to keep a distance or scare them off.
Monika, on the other hand, is a very successful doctor, lives in a beautiful, expensive house, is well off economically, and is admired by colleagues and friends. But underneath the successful surface is a small, scared human being with extremely low self-esteem who knows what to do to appear skilled, in control, and successful, but in reality cultivates this image in order to deflect attention from herself. She demands perfection of herself always, both professionally and personally. And under the surface she carries a burning shame dating back to the death of her brother. She could have saved him. If only she had done what was expected of her, and what she had promised, he would still have been alive.
Karin Alvtegen lets Maj-Britt and Monika go through events that revive all their evil memories, and the leads them toward one another, forces them together. In the process, the excitement builds - what will happen? How bad will it be? How will their lives change?
Shame is well written, intense, intelligent and entertaining. It is very well worth reading. Karin Alvtegen is a master when it comes to describing the power of irrational emotions, the brains capability to repress things that is too painful to remember, and the consequences when bad memories can no longer be avoided and must be confronted!