Translator: Ebba Segerberg
Narrator: Matt Addis, Caspar Rundegren, Clara Andersson
Published by Atria Books on March 5, 2019
Genres: Historical Fiction, Thriller, Historical Mystery
Length: 13 hrs 40 mins
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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-soldier 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.
Wow! The Wolf and the Watchman is the most engrossing novel I’ve read in a while. I want to tell you that you should read it and you should, but only if you like historical mysteries and don’t mind some gruesomeness and brutality. It is not for everyone; it’s dark and disturbing and if it was a movie I would have had to cover my eyes. It’s also brilliant and I loved it.
Stockholm in 1793 seems a terrible place to live unless you’re rich. Crime, sickness, poverty, filth, corruption, rape, and death. Against this backdrop, two men with little to lose are on the hunt for a killer. Mikel Cardell, a former soldier with no family, no friends, one arm, and little money, pulls the mutilated body of a young dead man out of the lake. Cecil Winge, dying of consumption, takes the case in his position as consulting detective for the Stockholm police. Winge and Cardell are both interesting in their own rights. Both have tragic backstories, but the sense of duty to the dead man binds them together. As a team, they work well together, Winge is clearly the brains and Cardell the brawn, but each has his moment(s) to take on the other’s role.
In other parts of the city, Kristofer Blix wants to train as a surgeon but needs to make money in the meantime, and Anna-Stina has been confined to a workhouse run by a sadistic man, falsely accused of being a prostitute. The lives of these two will intersect with Winge and Cardell’s in surprising ways. The characters are gritty and believable, even if some, not the main four but others, are just terrible people. I found myself cringing several times, in fear for the people I liked, in disgust at what people can do to each other.
I listened to the audio version. At first, I was a bit concerned with the three narrators, but they each did a fabulous job. The book divided into four parts. Parts 1 and 4 are mostly about the investigation itself have the same narrator. Part 1 introduces Cardell and Winge and the basics of the mystery and the era. Part 2 gives us Kristofer Blix’ story, mostly through letters to his dead sister. The narrator for this part did a wonderful job at portraying how, no matter how much Kristofer has seen, he’s still young, only 17, and innocent to some degree. In part 3, we learn Anna-Stina’s story and it’s nice to have a female narrator read this section. I don’t think the things she sees and does would have the same impact with a male voice. Part 4 wraps it all up, concluding the mystery.
The plot twists and turns, and then it all pulls together in the end and every little thing along the has mattered. The author does an amazing job of pulling you in. It’s vivid and ugly and beautiful and fabulous.