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 rucksack - apart from a knife and salami which she stores in a smart briefcase. 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. His dead body is discovered the following morning and Sybilla becomes the prime suspect. When a second person is killed in similar circumstances, she becomes the most wanted person in Sweden.
A couple of my reading challenges that I set for myself is to read a Scandinavian book monthly and also an Award winning crime fiction book. I managed to kill two birds with the one stone here, reading Swedish author, Karin Altvegen’s debut Glass Key Award winning novel Missing. I believe she won the award in 2001 and the English translation first appeared in 2003.
Well how did I get on?
I was fascinated by the author’s portrayal of Sybilla’s existence on the fringes of society. We see with flashbacks and frequent references to her past; her difficulties with her mother and as a result at school; her struggle to form friendships. This dysfunctional environment and a lack of support cast Sybilla as an outsider, even before her mental disintegration, subsequent hospitalisation and escape. She was an outsider when living within the structures of normal society and now believing she is still pursued, 14 years after the event she flies under the radar.
Until now; with the discovery of a dead businessman with whom she was seen dining with in a smart hotel. Sybilla Forsenstrom - her natural instinct being to evade the authorities – is soon headline news and the prime murder suspect. Life suddenly becomes a lot more difficulty for Sybilla and it’s harder to retain her invisibility.
Further murders follow, along with more revelations from her past; until a chance encounter with a schoolboy, similar in some respects to herself when a teenager, marks a turning point in her life. Slowly learning to trust someone, she starts to fight back to get out from under the shadow of being framed for the murders.
Overall, I was interested and entertained, though I enjoyed the first half of the book more than the second. I preferred the portrayal of Sybilla’s life as a victim, in the margins than as a semi-sleuth trying to find the real murderer. A little stretching of the bounds of credibility, in my opinion, but not so much that I was annoyed and I was still engaged enough to care about the outcome.
Decent characters, a sympathetic protagonist and an interesting setting all contributed greatly to my enjoyment.
3 from 5
The author has written another 4 books in the intervening period, but with the library shelves already creaking under the strain of the unread tomes, I will take a rain check.
I picked up a copy of this second hand earlier this year on e-bay.