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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Sun and Shadow

Åke Edwardson

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To purchase Sun and Shadow

Title: Sun and Shadow
Author: Åke Edwardson
Genre: Novel
Written: 1999 (Eng. 2005)
Length: 392 pages
Original in: Swedish
Availability: Sun and Shadow - US
Sun and Shadow - UK
Sun and Shadow - Canada
Ombre et soleil - France
Das vertauschte Gesicht - Deutschland
  • Swedish title: Sol och skugga
  • Translated by Laurie Thompson
  • An Erik Winter Novel

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Our Assessment:

B- : goes through the motions, without adding up to a very compelling novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The first novel by Ake Edwardson to be translated into English, Sun and Shadow introduces English-language readers to detective chief inspector Erik Winter. Unfortunately, it is not the first novel in the series (it appears to be the third), and while, like many detective fictions from a series, it can (or at least is meant to) stand on its own, it relies so much on the person and personality of its lead man that the background is sorely missed.
       Winter is just short of forty, still "the youngest detective chief inspector in Sweden". Someone mentions that he's: "The star of the force", too, but there's little sense of how Winter got to be where he is -- or that he's a star. (It seems likely that some sensational case he solved is behind his meteoric rise and fantastic reputation -- presumably the subject matter of volume(s) one and/or two in the Winter-series -- but there's nary a mention of it here.)
       The setting is Gothenburg (Göteborg), the time, the turn of the millennium -- New Year's 2000 is the point anticipated with both dread and excitement (though the novel continues into the new millennium). Winter is going to be a father, so there's some domestic tension, and at the beginning of the novel he has to jet down to Spain's sun coast, to Marbella, where his parents have retired to, where his father is suddenly in fast decline. Ah yes, Winter is stuck right in the middle of the cycle of life, death and birth close to him.
       As a policeman he is also, of course, frequently confronted with death in its more nasty (or at least less natural) form, and the murder case he finds himself trying to solve is a pretty horrific one. There are clues: some heavy metal music left playing on the stereo, some writing on the wall -- and what the murderer did to the bodies also obviously means something. The investigation proceeds at a leisurely pace (across months !), leads painstakingly followed (the music identified, the couples connexion with some other couples investigated, etc.). There are all the pieces of a murder mystery here, but Edwardson doesn't make a very compelling one out of it.
       Among the problems with the book are its pace -- where Ian Rankin generally has Rebus follow a case from beginning to end in a week, give or take, Edwardson drags this out from September 1999 through April of the new year. There's little sense of urgency -- and some of the police work is distinctly small-town, the police oblivious to the obvious, or incapable of getting the work done in a timely fashion (even basic stuff such as fingerprint comparisons). Edwardson also isn't one to linger over the crimes themselves, not revelling in what has been done but rather turning decorously away from the victims -- admirable, in a way, but he doesn't quite pull it off. Worse is when he teases:

Their bodies were crisscrossed with shadows and light and something else. Winter realized what it was
       Yes, Winter realized -- but do you think he'd share his insight or observation with the reader ? No: there are clues, and it's mentioned eventually -- but not nearly soon enough. Some may like this type of suggestive novelistic play, but crime fiction that withholds the most basic information from readers, that's a challenge (or, more likely: a cheap trick).
       Sun and Shadow adheres to the basic Ian Rankin Rebus novel template. Winter isn't quite as moody or troubled (or alcohol-dependent) as Rebus, but he also has issues, and can't get his personal life completely in order. Then there's the police staff, a large cross-section of which swirls throughout the novel -- including, colourfully, Aneta Djanali, born in Gotheburg but to emigrants from "the troubled African nation of Burkina Faso" (allowing for both a touch of the exotic and bringing in the race/immigrant issue). And there's a personal aspect to the crimes too: "It's not unusual in cases like this for the murderer to try and get power over the person who exposes him. His unmasker" -- in this case: "His future unmasker", i.e. Winter.
       As Rankin also sometimes likes to do, Edwardson tells his story from multiple perspectives, shining a light on Gothenburg from various angles (sun and shadow !) and through various eyes, some more guilty than others. And there's the sub-story of a youth living with his alcoholic father, a boy who might have some valuable information about the case. There are some more cheap tricks -- some bait and switch, as the reader is led to believe X did something (or something was done to X) but it turns out not to have been X but Y (a very enervating fictional device, though it's about all the suspense Edwardson can muster) -- as well as some of those with critical evidence inconveniently getting themselves incapacitated. Edwardson uses many of the traditional thriller-building-blocks, yet his assemblage rarely thrills.
       Sun and Shadow has all the right ingredients for a decent police procedural, and some potentially interesting characters (and situations for those characters), not least Erik Winter. But Edwardson displays a remarkable inability to piece it together -- and flesh it out -- making for a book that isn't really bad but is surprisingly dull. (It likely would resonate more effectively if Winter were already familiar to readers (i.e. the earlier volumes in the series were available), but even then it probably wouldn't be truly compelling.)

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Sun and Shadow: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swedish author Åke Edwardson was born in 1953.

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© 2005-2021 the complete review

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