MASTER, LIAR, TRAITOR, FRIEND is the third in the Swedish Leo Junker series, a set of books which hopefully all fans of Scandinavian crime fiction are aware of.
Up there with the very best of Scandinavian crime fiction, partly it's the interweaving of the past and present into the backgrounds of the crimes and the main characters, partly it's beautifully descriptive writing that never becomes overdone, that help make this series work so well. Ultimately it's the realness of the situations and the characters that take the reader directly into the story, seeing and feeling much of the action, and in particular the reactions, of everyone involved.
MASTER, LIAR, TRAITOR, FRIEND is particularly intriguing because Junker is central to so many threads within this story. The dead man and Junker had a close, and fraught relationship. Charles Levin was a mentor to Junker, and then something happened to fracture their friendship. Levin moved to a small village after retiring from the Police Force and it is there he's found shot dead. Tove Waltersson, the local detective in charge of the preliminary investigation, is a native of this small village. Her older brother had also been in the police force, until he was killed in a shoot-out a year ago. Junker's arrival on the scene to launch his own investigation before the National Bureau of Investigation takes over is difficult for Waltersson - not that he realises why, but she knows that Junker is the one that accidentally shot and killed her brother.
And then there's a small kitten. What on earth does a kitten have to do with the murder of an ex-cop and Junker's problems with his own past, and everybody's reaction to him? Well nothing, and everything. Which is part of the point about Carlsson's storytelling ability. There's plenty of introspective, brooding Scandinavian cop portrayal, and there's tensions between Stockholm and the outlying districts. Then there's characters who are rubbing up against each other, or downright hate, regardless of whether the target of that feeling (or even readers) know why. But there are also touches of lightness and asides - often times funny, frequently touching, along with that constant searching for how the past infects the present and how the present isn't just the job. It all makes this a series that's extremely believable and involving.
It's interesting that this author's background is in criminology, as there's something about these books that speaks to a searching for meaning. For exploring consequences and understanding why things turn out as they do. Even in the character of Junker there's that constant searching within himself - to explain his past, his decisions, his addictions and his methods for handling all of that.
All of which feeds into why this is a series for fans of crime fiction. It's introspective, considered, thoughtful, insightful and brilliant.