Up there among the genre's best.
Authentic in terms of the, realistic and oozing social awareness, approach towards its main themes, Pascal Engman's Femicide introduces a fresh take on the saturated genre of Scandinavian crime fiction and involves the reader in a labyrinthine and told by multiple narrators story rooted in the plights challenging the contemporary Swedish society. Engman's professional background as a journalist at Swedish evening newspaper Expressen makes all the difference as he succeeds in concocting an edgy, suspenseful plot while always remaining true to his representation of searing social issues, always reflecting on motifs such as class, identity, racism and misogyny. This is the second installment in the lauded Vanessa Frank series and the first book of Engman to be translated into the English language despite the fact that the Vanessa Frank novels have found their way in other big markets such as the German, the Spanish, and the Italian. The young Swedish author has been hailed by some of the most distinguished of his peers such as David Lagercrantrz, Camilla Läckberg, and Peter James as the most gifted Swedish crime writer of his generation. Plus, Femicide's English translation by Michael Gallagher ascertains that even the slightest of the text's nuances are preserved.
The novel's over-arching theme concerns the emerging new social group of incels, a portmanteau term for the Involuntary Celibates, and the impact of this hateful ideology on the lives of both women in men in the modern world. Incels, a racially, ethnically and religiously diverse faction, mainly manifest their presence online, being a part of the so-called "Manosphere" -"a collection of online spaces promoting masculinity and misogyny, and opposing feminism"- but their influence has spread during the last few years and many scientists and academics are urging the public to remain vigilant in order to protect women as well as young men who may face the related mental predicaments and are prone to embracing such a despicable set of beliefs. Incels are convinced that their lack of ability to establish successful sexual relationships with members of the opposite sex is predetermined by both genetics and society. They put all the blame on women who are supposedly attracted only by a certain type of male, the so-called "alpha males", and their ideology is fueled by the notions of gynocentrism which dictates that "modern society is structured in a way that benefits women, and thereby oppresses men – especially those deemed to be lesser, i.e. an incel) and plain, old-fashioned misogyny. The extremist speech and outrageous declarations uttered by incels have alerted the more sensitive members of contemporary western societies to a fast-growing bloc whose members are motivated by the most primitive of human instincts.
The late Swedish author and magazine editor Stieg Larsson was the first to trace the expanding violence directed towards women in Sweden today and the first part in the notorious Millenium trilogy (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) was published in Sweden under the title Män som hatar kvinnor which translates into English as Men Who Hate Women. The title is also applicable to Engman's novel as it features a wide variety of characters, their social status spanning from the most affluent to the destitute and homeless, each narrating a story with multiple plot strands that unravels with a raw force, reminiscent of the best works by authors of the magnitude of Jo Nesbo and Lars Kepler. The main protagonist is Vanessa Frank who is assigned to the case of a femicide that took place in the Swedish capital and is initially perceived as the work of her boyfriend who may be incarcerated but at the time of the murder had been on leave from the prison. There are some references to Vanessa's previous case, the story of the first book in the saga (original title: Eldslandet), however Femicide can definitely be read as a standalone as it tells a totally self-contained storyline. Perhaps, those who are familiar with the previous work would be more familiar with the characters of Vanessa and Nicolas who are once more the duo of protagonists.
Apart from Vanessa and Nicolas, there is a multitude of characters featured, each inhabiting their own space within the overall narrative and the separate plot threads begin to merge and make sense after the first half of the novel which is slower in pace and is chiefly concerned with the setting of the story and the introduction of the protagonists. The myriad of narrators may sound perplexing to the reader of this review, but Engman proves that he possesses the required skills to widen the scope of his narrative without losing focus, adding new characters even after the midpoint enriching the complex plot even further. The author cites some quotes from anonymous men -incels- before some chapters, all expressing deep anger towards women and society in general. For example: "I don't regard women as people. All they are, or should be, is slaves for men. Cooking, cleaning, and spreading the legs when they're told". You don't have to be a social or political scientist to detect the venomous essence and the possible dire effect of this kind of talk and it is this rhetoric which eventually leads to crimes such as those included in the story of Femicide. There are women's murders, rapes, battering in a roller-coaster of viciousness that is rooted in a false ideology which appeals to men of all ages and social backgrounds, even to those of higher education.
Pascal Engman's Femicide is a captivating thriller treading on topical subjects and providing the author's peers with a blueprint regarding how an author can conjure up a titillating story which nonetheless corresponds to the emerging realities of our age and is meant to make the reader conscious of the newfound social ills. The author is relentless in his characterization letting the reader become privy to the inner workings of deranged minds who intend to do harm as a direct consequence of their misled views on the others and society as a whole. The violence is gratuitous at parts, but what is even more disconcerting is our exposition to the thought processes of the culprits. Vanessa is an intriguing protagonist carrying a heavy personal burden, her daughter had died while her foster daughter has moved permanently in Syria, and she makes for a decisive and inclined-to-action character who moves forward the story with some brief interludes where she discloses to the people closest to her, her arcane concerns and grievances. I really hope that publishers in the English-speaking parts of the world will wake up and translate the following Vanessa Frank installments, so far 5 books in total, as the Swedish author's pen opens new horizons in the genre's stagnant status quo.