As a mystery, Unspoken is just fair. Jungstedt plants some nice red herrings, but her choice of perpetrators for the novel's two main crimes is surprising to the point of feeling rushed and arbitrary. Elsewhere, though, she comes up with elegant solutions to a pair of problems I've occasionally found in mysteries. I'll call one of these the domestic problem and the other the professional.
The first happens when an author tries too hard to flesh out a character by giving him or her a domestic life. The second happens when an author, often a reporter, assumes that his or her profession is sufficiently interesting to constitute a compelling plot element. Either or both can often be too big a burden for a protagonist to sustain while still moving the story forward.
Unspoken avoids this simply by allocating the domestic and professional angst to subsidiary characters, with a just a brief hint of domestic discord in the life of the chief police investigator, Detective Superintendent Anders Knutas. The burden of professional griping falls to Johan Berg, a television reporter sent to the Swedish island of Gotland to cover the crimes Knutas and his team investigate. The domestic travails fall to Emma Winarve, a teacher with whom Berg has had an affair. This lets Jungstedt, herself a television reporter, air her frustrations and hold forth on the heroism of conscientious reporters without slowing the narrative pace or sinking into whining or self-pity. The novel's structure of short sub-chapters, each told from a different character's pont of view, helps.
This construction is one of the more intriguing and practical I've seen in a crime novel, and it encourages me to seek out more of Jungstedt's work. (Read another discussion of the book here.)
And now, a question for readers: What crime novels can you think of where domestic description or other non-mystery elements got in the way of the story? What novels did a good job of integrating these elements?
© Peter Rozovsky 2009