A dark and gruesome Gothic thriller, which reveals a formidable and disturbing portrait of Stockholm during the tumultuous period of the late 18 century. The Wolf and the Watchman
The characters are brilliantly developed where the personalities and demeanour of each character have such wonderful depth and variation. The hardship each character faces, their place in this unforgiving society, and the demons and impediments they face, position this novel as a fantastic depiction of life during those fearful revolutionary periods in European history.
A body is found in the lake and recovered by a watchman, Mickel Cardell. The body is missing arms, legs, eyes, teeth and its tongue, and strangely the person didn’t die of those injuries, as they were healed long before death. Someone has brutally dismembered this person and kept them alive – what deranged reason lies behind this and who could be so soulless. Cecil Winge is a lawyer, dying of consumption, determined to see this last case through, and he works with watchman Cardell to uncover the motivation and the perpetrators of this crime. Winge is recognised as an honest man who will use evidence from all sources, particularly permitting defendants an opportunity to speak for themselves.
Kristofer Blix was an apprentice surgeon during the war and finds himself in Stockholm playing a carefree game with other people’s money until it all collapses and he is left destitute. The consequences are dramatic and hopeless, and his debt is bought by a cruel ruthless man, who now owns Blix until his debt is paid. When the story is told through Kristofer’s eyes it is done using letters to his sister and he relates his ambitions to the despondent reality he now endures.
Anna-Stina is a young woman who finds herself accused of being a whore and committed to the workhouse on the word of a spiteful priest. She finds life in the workhouse unbearable and run by a vicious sadistic man. Anna-Stina concocts an escape plan that will surely mean her death if she fails.
Each thread comes together in this captivating and chilling tale. The gruesome and uninhibited brutality is shocking but difficult to resist. While carefully written I felt the balance between descriptive elements and plot, to be slightly unbalanced, mainly with the sections devoted to Kristofer and Anna-Stina. I love reading beautiful vivid imagery and truly enjoyed that aspect of this book but at times I started anticipating the prose while the plot faltered. The story is, however, brilliantly drawn to an end, an end that signals deception and danger, with a few surprises still to play out. The truth, the physical condition of Winge, the perilous position of Winge and Cardell, and what is at stake for a society that is rumbling of revolution, is held in such a precarious balance as we reach an engrossing finale.
I would rate this book 4.5 stars and inclined to round up because it is such a unique, dramatic and powerful book. I would highly recommend it and I would like to thank John Murray Press and NetGalley for providing me with an ARC copy in return for an honest review.