Friday, March 15, 2019

Review: The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag

Title: The Wolf and the Watchman
Author: Niklas Natt och Dag
Published: March 2019, Atria Books
Format: Hardcover, 384 pages
Source: Publisher

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 thoughts: Last year, I watched the TV mini-series The Alienist and loved it - and it happens to be one of my husband's all-time favorite books...he owns THREE copies of the book, including a first edition! I still need to read the actual book, but when I saw that this book, THE WOLF AND THE WATCHMAN was being compared to The Alienist, I knew I wanted to give it a go - a historical fiction crime thriller - sounds right up my alley!

This is a dark, gritty, macabre read...not sure what that says about me as a reader, but I was fascinated with the story. It is a little slow going and it does take a while to get into the rhythm of the story, but I tell you, I found myself captivated. It's certainly not a fast, thrilling read - this is definitely a different kind of absorbing read, yet one that still had me invested in what was going on.

I will say this is not a book for everyone - it's violent, at times graphic, in nature. But if you can get past that, it really is quite an intricately woven tale that will take you down a path in history you probably know nothing about. It takes us into the underbelly of Stockholm in the late 1700s and believe me, it's not really a time you would want to live. What kept me going was the compelling descriptions that we get and the characters we meet. There are a few mysteries and of course I needed them to be solved! I needed to know how everything tied together.

The characters in this book are so well-drawn. We get their full back story so that they have depth and complexity. This draws you in as much as the brilliant descriptions of the setting. You really get a sense of what Stockholm was like back in the 1790s - it comes alive with the author's writing. There is such a sharp contrast between the haves and the have-nots and this is clearly due to the writer's talent.

This was quite a compelling read and one that is not soon to be forgotten. I will absolutely be keeping an eye out for what comes next from this author...his writing is quite remarkable.


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