The Woman Inside
M.T. Edvardsson's second novel doesn't disappoint.
After a triumphant 2018 debut with A Nearly Normal Family, M.T. Edvardsson established himself as one of the most eloquent fresh voices in Swedish crime fiction literature and won the genre's hardcore readership by delivering a twisted tale of murder, told by many different perspectives and featuring stark characters that felt real in terms of their actions on page and thought process. The Woman Inside is Edvardsson's third installment in his Lundasviten series, but -sadly- only the second to be translated into English. It makes me wonder what was the reason that the second volume (original title: Goda Grannar) was bypassed by the English-speaking publishing world. Anyway, in this book the Swedish author stayed loyal to the debut's recipe in terms of narrative structure and characterization and the final result is destined to appease all those who were ambivalent regarding this novel's merits and qualities. Edvardsson proves to be a seasoned wordsmith with a keen insight in the language that he uses and the text feels natural with a flow and tonality that doesn't expose or embarrass its author in any way.
The story setting of The Woman Inside is, in some ways, reminiscent of that featured in the author's debut as there is, once again, a murder at the center of the plot with a multitude of characters revolving around the terrible event which opens the novel and generates a certain amount of suspense and mystery throughout the course of the story. As it was the case with A Nearly Normal Family, the locational setting is the town of Lund, in the southern Swedish province of Scania. It is there that the novel's main characters live and breathe, namely Karla, Bill, and Jennica. Each one of them offers their own point of view through which the story is told with Edvardsson excelling at the handling of this particular trope -very common among Nordic crime fiction authors-, slowly building a kaleidoscopic narrative that never loses momentum due to its multifaceted nature. The characters are not necessarily likable and there will be many who will find Bill's dependence from his dead wife irritating or Jennica's job (offering psychic advices to the masses) a bit haywire and her general attitude rather vapid. Nevertheless, it is these little flaws that deem the characters realistic and plausible and Edvardsson is careful not to coerce sympathy for his protagonist from the readers, opting to outline them in a humanlike manner.
Karla is a young woman who wants to study law and become a judge, however currently she is forced to do odd jobs in order to survive. In that spirit, she accepts a job as a cleaner for a wealthy couple, Steven and Regina Rytter, who are also the victims of the crime that drives the story. From the beginning, Karla suspects that something is off in the Rytter's household as Steven is -almost always- absent while his wife is bedridden because of a mysterious disease that even lacks a proper diagnosis. At the same time, as the consequence of her dire financial situation, she rents a room in a house owned by Bill, a young widower who is also the father of an eight-year-old girl, Sally. Gradually, Bill and Karla get to know each other and then Karla does something improper, stealing a precious ring from the Rytters in order to help Bill and Sally, an small crime that will have major repercussions. The third protagonist is Jennica who meets Steven Rytter from an online dating app and forges an intimate relationship with him. Their idyllic liaison is slowly crumbling as Steven's behavior makes her believe that he is hiding something serious.
The aforementioned characters carry the heavy weight of storytelling and the text's orderly streaming is sparsely intercepted by some fragments of police interrogation transcripts where major and minor players of the story give their own viewpoint on case of the Rytters' murder. The short interactions offer vital information to the readers and enhance the mystery aspect of the story. There is a strong whodunit element in play and it is only in the end that we finally learn the truth about the killings. I read in some online reviews of the novel that the final felt anti-climactic, however I thoroughly disagree as I found it to be both fitting and clever. All in all, The Woman Inside will gratify even the most demanding of Nordic crime fiction aficionados and is a first-rate choice for all fans of stories told through the eyes of several characters. If you loved A Nearly Normal Family, then forget any qualms that you may have and buy this book. It is guaranteed entertainment from one of the most promising new writers of the genre.
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