Friday, March 15, 2019

The Wolf and the Watchman - Review

The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag
Publisher: Atria Books
Publication date: March 5, 2019
Hardcover; 384 pages
Source: Publisher for an honest review

In this breathtakingly bold, intricately constructed novel set in 18th century Stockholm, a dying man searches among the city’s teeming streets, dark corners, and intriguing inhabitants to unmask a ruthless murderer—perfect for fans of Perfume and The Alienist.

It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.

When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite. Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.

In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.

Over the course of the novel, these extraordinary characters cross paths and collide in shocking and unforgettable ways. Niklas Natt och Dag paints a deliciously dark portrait of late 18th century Stockholm, and the frightful yet fascinating reality lurking behind the powdered and painted veneer of the era.

My Take:

I found The Wolf and the Watchman to be extremely well written, with characters that linger in the mind long after closing the book on the last page. What seems to start with a strange, but intriguing murder mystery evolves into a deep, dark look into humanity itself. There is indeed a murder to be solved, but the road to solving it is a long, winding and often horrifying one. 

Cardell is an interesting and endearing character. A huge, intimidating ex-soldier who is a sometimes-watchman and general muscle for establishments with that kind of need. His is haunted by his military service and his perceived failings. His sense of justice and attempts to correct his past wrongs make him a perfect companion to Winge who hasn't the physical strength of Cardell, but has the intellectual prowess to solve most any crime. I found this pair to be the best crime solving duo I've encountered in literature to date. 

Each character in the novel has a fascinating and often heartbreaking and/or terrifying backstory. There is not a dull moment in the entire book. Each strand of this multi-layered story pulls the reader deeper into the dark, dazzling and violent mystery taking place in 1793 Stockholm. Often it seems like Cardell and Winge are the only people striving for justice in a violently mad world. The novel is beautiful and horrifying at the same time. I was absolutely enthralled and could barely put the book down. Highly recommended.

Niklas Natt och Dag (whose name translates to “Night and Day”) is a member of the oldest surviving noble family in Sweden. He enjoys playing the guitar, mandolin, violin, and flute. He lives in Stockholm, Sweden, with his wife and their two sons. THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN is his first novel.

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