Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, Nordic noir, suspense, thriller
Series: Hannah Webster #1
Published by Hanover Square Press on December 28, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
A DEAD WOLF
A DRUG DEAL GONE WRONG
A LETHAL FEMALE ASSASSIN
The first book in a new series by Hans Rosenfeldt, creator of the TV series The Bridge as well as Netflix’s Emmy Award–winning Marcella.
Hannah Wester, a policewoman in the remote northern town of Haparanda, Sweden, finds herself on the precipice of chaos.
When human remains are found in the stomach of a dead wolf, Hannah knows that this summer won’t be like any other. The remains are linked to a bloody drug deal across the border in Finland. But how did the victim end up in the woods outside of Haparanda? And where have the drugs and money gone?
Hannah and her colleagues leave no stone unturned. But time is scarce and they aren’t the only ones looking. When the secretive and deadly Katja arrives, unexpected and brutal events start to pile up. In just a few days, life in Haparanda is turned upside down. Not least for Hannah, who is finally forced to confront her own past.
The mystery in Cry Wolf and the solving of it read like they sit at the crossroads between “For want of a nail” and “This is the house that Jack built.” The former being the first line of a quote from Benjamin Franklin, and the latter being an English nursery rhyme. Both are cumulative stories, where one thing leads to another and another. Not necessarily in a straightforward or even competent fashion.
No one comes out of this story exactly smelling of roses. There’s plenty of blame, misunderstanding, misdirection and downright incompetence involved along the way.
At the same time, Cry Wolf also reads like a non-superhero based origin story for Black Widow, one in which she continues to put more red in her ledger until the day she dies, still doing the work of the “Red Room” – or in the case of Katja in Cry Wolf, “The Academy”.
But those perspectives are long views of Cry Wolf, the latter of which seems most plausible at the ending. At the beginning there are two dead wolves with human remains in their bellies on the Swedish side of the border between Sweden and Finland outside the remote, fading town of Haparanda.
The local cops, including Hannah Wester and her boss – and illicit lover – Gordon, start out worrying about how the discovery of the man-eating wolves is going to exacerbate local, regional and even national tensions over whether wolves should be protected or hunted to elimination in the region.
But of course the case isn’t that simple. And this is where we get into the whole “For want of a nail” scenario. The wolves, a mother and cub, did not bring down human prey. They found a murder victim. It’s not that wolves are incapable of killing humans with enough motivation or desperation – it’s that wolves aren’t capable of shooting a gun.
That lets the wolves off the hook, but the situation only expands from there. The murder victim was the sole survivor of a drug deal that went wrong on the other side of the border in Finland. He left the half dozen victims behind riddled with gunshots while he walked away with bags of drugs and money – and with a bullet in his ass.
Only to be struck down by a hit and run driver who seems to have made off with the drugs and the money. Drugs and money that belong to the Russian mafia – who want their property back and intend to make an example of whoever got in their way.
And that’s the point at which everyone’s competence goes more than a bit out of whack. The local police are out of their depth. Their liaison from the Finnish side is on the take from the Russians. The hit and run driver and his accomplice are locals who desperately need the money but only have vague dreams about how to handle things. And the agent the Russians send to Haparanda, a graduate of the legendary Academy that trains abused children to become assassins, isn’t able to overcome her initial overestimation of just how capable her opposition might be. She’s left floundering in professionalism as she’s overcome by sheer, dumb luck.
While policewomen Hannah Wester tries to put her best into the investigation as her entire life falls apart.
Escape Rating B+: Cry Wolf very much falls into the category of “Nordic noir”. In fact, the author of Cry Wolf is also the creative mind behind one of the more popular Nordic noir TV series, The Bridge. So readers who either like the series or like this branch of the mystery genre are going to feel right at home in Haparanda and Cry Wolf.
The setting of this story is bleak and the lives of the principal characters seem even bleaker. That’s not criticism, as the bleakness is a hallmark of the genre. But, and a huge but here, this probably isn’t a book to read if you’re already depressed unless you’re the kind of person who really gets off on schadenfreude.
There’s no one happy in this story. It’s not that kind of story. This also isn’t a story where anyone seems to display much in the way of competence, which is one of the things I often read mysteries for. In this particular case, it’s more like a series of accidents looking for places to happen – and then for someone to happen upon them.
But I have to say that it’s compelling to read. I was hooked from the very first page, even if I never did figure out where it was going until near the end. Which, come to think of it, isn’t a surprise as none of the perpetrators seemed to know where they were going, either. And the few who thought they did ended up being surprised by where they ended up – and usually dead shortly thereafter.
So the spooling and unspooling of this mystery reads more like a series of stumbles, rather than the usual breakneck race towards a finish.
The part that’s sticking with me is that mirror darkly reflection of Black Widow. At first, we’ve got a policewoman whose life is falling apart and a mafia assassin and no relationship between them. But as the story progresses, in its kaleidoscope of first person perspectives, we learn more about the mysterious Katja and her abusive childhood and miraculous rescue by her equally mysterious “Uncle”. The more of Katja’s history we see, the more it looks like her life was rigged. That it might – and still might not – intersect with Hannah’s own tragedy looks like it’s going to power the next book in the series, whenever that might be.
And I’m more than curious enough to want to see what happens next!