Karin Wahlberg is the author of a long-running series featuring chief inspector Claes Claesson of Oskarshalm, a small port city in Smaland, Sweden. The first to be published in English translation appears to be the eighth in the series. That doesn’t detract much from the reading experience, as the story doesn’t demand previous familiarity with the characters.
The book opens on a ferry in Istanbul, where an elderly carpet dealer from Sweden is enjoying the passage across the Bosporus. At least, he’s enjoying himself until someone stabs him in the chest. Who would have committed such a crime in broad daylight, taking advantage of the crowd leaving the ferry to melt away, undetected? And why would someone want to kill a harmless old Swede? Claes is called away from parental leave to check in with the Turkish police investigating the crime. One of his colleagues, a Turkish-Swedish officer, finds himself attracted to Merve Turpan, a detective inspector who is competently handling the Turkish investigation. But before long, the Swedish police realize the roots of the crime most likely lie at home.
This is an old-fashioned, amiable, rambling sort of a book, one that takes its time following various characters about, and giving us a tour of Istanbul that is pleasant and interesting, though punctuated with travelogue info-dumps that are not woven very smoothly into the storyline. I’m always complaining that books are too long, and this one (at 390 pages) is no exception. It may have been my distracted mood while reading the book, but I found it hard to keep focused on the story as we hopped from one character to another, none of them enormously vivid (though a nervous Turkish tea salesman on board the ferry sticks with me, for some reason). I enjoyed the company of the main characters, and would have liked to spend more time with Merve, but I’m afraid overall it’s a book I’m forgetting much more quickly than I turned the pages. If given the choice of a formulaic thriller or Death of a Carpet Dealer, I would gladly choose the latter, but on the whole I’d rather read something else.
None of this vague dissatisfaction is the fault of the translator, Neil Betteridge, who has done an admirable job. I just have a feeling this is a book that doesn’t suit my personal tastes. The publisher, Stockholm Text (who kindly provided me with a copy) has made a lengthy excerpt available online so readers can see if it’s up their alley or not.