“From a collection of parts all individually worthless, a clockwork is formed that functions anew.”
This guy can write. Many thanks go to Atria Books for the
two invitations to read and review as well as the gorgeous hardcover book for
review. Happy publication day; this book is available to the public now.
We find ourselves in Stockholm at the end of the eighteenth
century; it’s a tense time, with a political backlash resulting from the French
Revolution and the fears it excites among those in power. The poor lead
miserable lives, and life itself is cheap. There are very few protections in
place for the vulnerable.
Mickel Cardell, the one-armed watchman, pulls a corpse—or
what’s left of it–out of the Larder Lake. He sends the children that found it
to get a cop. One thing leads to another, and then the chief of police, Johan
Gustaf Norlin, sends for Cecil Winge. The
two men know one another well.
Winge is the most tragic hero I’ve seen in a long time. He’s
dying of consumption (typhus), and he has left his wife because he doesn’t want
her to have to watch him die; also, he’s impotent, and it’s painful to walk in
on her with another man. Not that he blames her; he’d just prefer not to watch
or hear it. He’s an attorney and has all the money he needs, but this is one
time that money doesn’t help all that much. His illness prevents him from
sleeping well, and he’s inclined to seek a challenge here or there when he can
in order to distract himself from his own condition. Norlin has a distraction
for him now. Winge reminds him that the last time he helped him with a case,
Norlin had promised not to ask again; but Norlin is asking anyway.
The title comes into it when Winge interviews the textile
merchant that recognizes the distinctive shroud in which the body was wrapped.
The merchant is financially ruined and plans to climb aboard the ship bound for
his home and then jump off into cold deep water and die. Before he boards, he
points out that man is a lupine hunter, and that Winge himself is well on the
“No one can run with the wolf pack without accepting its
terms. You have both the fangs and the glint of the predator in your eye…one
day your teeth will be stained red and then you’ll know with certainty how
right I was. Your bite will be deep. Maybe you will prove the better wolf, Mr.
Winge, and on that note I bid you good night.”
The historical setting and characters here are beautifully
drawn; for some reason, I like the moments when a character reaches up and
yanks his wig off because it’s itchy and it’s driving him nuts. A number of
characters are resonant, but Winge—who is perfect for the reader that needs an
excuse to just sit down and cry—and Cardell, who holds his own in a fight
surprisingly well, even with one arm—are my favorites. It is they, imperfect
individually, that together make up the clockwork that functions anew.
Those of us that read a lot of books within the mystery
genre (and its many offshoots) see a lot of the same settings and plots almost
often enough to create a mystery story using MadLibs. Just fill in the blanks.
In contrast, the unique setting, well-developed characters, and bad ass word
smithery in this one are a potent combination.
And now I have to admit that for me, it is too potent. There
is a great deal of detail about the corpse’s mutilation, and once I pushed my
way past it, it came up again and again, because it’s right at the center of
the case they are solving. So although for some this mystery will be, as the
promotional blurb promises, “deliciously dark,” for me it is far too dark. In
fact, I cannot remember ever using the word “shocking” as a descriptor within a
review, but I’ll use it now. There are some things that cannot be unread once
you have read them. I haven’t had my gut turn over in this way in several
years, and I don’t ever want to go there again.
But that’s me. My daughter is not as easily horrified as I
am; she may love this book.
Those contemplating purchasing this well-scribed novel
should do one thing, and that is to carefully read the promotional description.
It does warn the reader. The first time I saw it, I read that blurb and decided
not to read it; then I was invited to read and review, and I accepted the
widget but declined to sign up for a blog tour in case I couldn’t stand it; but
then I was offered a hard copy, and I saw that other reviewers loved it, and my
resistance worn down, I caved. Once I had it, I felt like I had to read it even
when it was beyond the point of not being a fun read. But if you can read that
blurb and are still game, then by all means you should get it, because all of
the technical skills that make up an award winning novel are here in spades and
the urgency never lets up.
Highly recommended for those that are not even a
tiny bit squeamish and have strong literacy skills.