Author: Jenny Rogneby

Publisher: Other Press, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-59051-882-3

This first book in a three-part series featuring a tough, female, violent crimes investigator in Stockholm gives a twist to the now almost-mainstream, Swedish crime novel. Leona Lindberg, a clever and attractive young wife and mother -- no longer in love with her husband -- repeatedly puts herself on the line. It is the personality and private life of this main character that drives the action, not the crimes.

Readers attracted to criminal psychology will be riveted from the start, when a bank is robbed by a naked and bleeding seven-year-old girl. Die-hard fans of Nordic noir may take it in stride. I was sickened. It’s not that I prefer cozies. In fact, I’m even half Swedish, and I understand brooding, introspective characters. Leona doesn’t quite fit this model. She’s impulsive. It is interesting, though perhaps unfair, to compare her with DI Nikki Galena, the Joy Ellis series character working in The Fens, Lincolnshire, England, just a jump over the North Sea from Scandinavia. Like Leona, Nikki has personal problems, is tough, and is making the grade despite the built-in gender bias predictably present in police procedurals. But I know Nikki will prevail. Leona leaves me with trepidation about where she is headed.

Author Jenny Rogneby, “known for her former career as a pop singer,” studied criminology at the University of Stockholm and now is a police investigator. She also is a very skillful writer and, with this confident first-person narrative, has constructed a story that compels the reader to turn the pages. I did so to find out if Leona becomes likeable. So I have had to ask myself the feminist question: Do I prefer Nikki because she misses her daughter and worries a lot? The answer has to be that an author is not responsible for making a reader comfortable. As a reviewer, I’m knocked off balance because this heroine is distasteful to me, yet I want to know what will happen to her in book two.

LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST will intrigue those who enjoy reading about corruption. Rogneby does not make distinctions as satisfying as those of Louise Penny or Donna Leon. Penny’s rotten top cops stain Canada like dog pee on freshly-fallen snow. Leon’s failures of justice come from deeply ingrained family influence entangled with laughable Italian bureaucracy. Their respective male inspectors, Gamache and Brunetti, are moral rocks. Leona Lindberg is not. On the surface, that’s forgivable. After all, there’s a beloved tradition of “good” male detectives who are yet deeply flawed. Typically, they have horrific war memories, rotten divorces, or troubled teenagers who cause them to become workaholics and alcoholics. We still love them, like we love our imperfect kids. For example, Ian Rankin brought us the gruff, hard-drinking, record collecting, Edinburgh inspector John Rebus. Over thirty years, Rebus has been prey to bad guys on either side of the law. By making him an outsider, Rankin has managed to keep him alive. I believe the character DI Helen Morton on the television adaptation of DCI Banks novels was attractive to feminists. She had a problem with work/life balance, and her husband divorced her. Then the series was cancelled. In my view, Leona still stands oddly alone, and evolving her character and context over the next two novels, perhaps as another outsider, is Jenny Rogneby’s challenging task.