by Leif G. W. Persson
Just as Lars Martin Johansson, retired head of the Swedish National Criminal Police, is about to bite into a Zigeuner sausage with sauerkraut in a baguette from Gunter’s, the best hot dog kiosk in Stockholm, he suffers a serious stroke.
His neurologist, Ulrika Stenhom, assures him that he can make a good recovery, but his real issue is the abuse that he has given his heart over his decade as a cop. A change of diet, giving up alcohol, getting more exercise and letting go of stress will go along way toward bringing him back.
Then, she brings up a decidedly untherapeutic discussion: a 25-year-old cold case in which nine-year-old Yasmine Ermegan was raped and strangled.
Stenholm’s father was a vicar, she tells Johansson. One of his elderly parishioners told him during confession that she thought she knew who had harmed Yasmine. The fact that the perpetrator had never been brought to justice preyed on the vicar and it preyed on the doctor.
With the help of former colleagues, some retired and some still active, Johansson gets access to the old investigation records. The investigation was clearly botched up, but using logic, careful review of the records and judiciously interviewing people close to the situation, he gets a tip that breaks the case open.
There’s just one problem: a new Swedish law puts this case outside the statute of limitations. The perpetrator can no longer be prosecuted. What is an honest policeman to do?
He could tip off Yasmine’s father who has emigrated to the United States, become a multimillionaire and is active in fighting pedophiles . . . he could tip off some of his friends still in Swedish law enforcement, who have made it known they could take care of the perp off the books if Johansson says the word . . . he could tell the media . . . but each option has moral, legal or diplomatic issues.
In some ways, this thriller is reminiscent of Josephine Tey’s DAUGHTER OF TIME, in which bedridden Detective Chief Inspector Alan Grant tries to solve the mystery of whether British King Richard III murdered his nephews Princes Edward and Richard or not.
But Grant’s case is academic, while Johansson’s is frought with legal and ethical issues. Over nearly eight weeks, Johansson and his unofficial team recheck the facts. The dying detective works out a plan to see that justice is done without ruining his own reputation or getting any of his colleagues in trouble.