Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg

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.

6 thoughts on “Death of a Carpet Dealer by Karin Wahlberg

  1. Glad to read another review about this book. I so much want to read crime fiction set in locales like Istanbul. I’ll learn something, I’m sure. However, now I am in duality about reading it, a friend would say. Well, I’ll just keep reading reviews.
    I haven’t seen this book in my environs yet, either, so it may be a moot point as I’m not into buying it. However, if the library has it or it’s remaindered at Amazon or Abe Books, I may take a chance.

  2. An observation: I agree with what you said at FF about Otto Penzler’s rant about the “superiority” of U.S./British crime fiction over all other countries’ contributions to the genre. Very retro-thinking, going backwards about 50 years.
    There are so many excellent mystery writers all over the globe. The Internet has helped to publicize international authors and their books, opening up the possibilities to global readers. So many rich, well-written books, with interesting sleuths, are available.
    And, interestingly, he left out, in his Scandinavian section, the great writing team of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, often cited as the parents of modern Swedish (maybe even Scandinavian) crime fiction.
    Anyway, his basic thesis is so outdated it’s ridiculous. The world is full of good writers, including of crime fiction. It’s a joy to discover them.

  3. I probably liked it a little more than you but don’t disagree with your thoughts about it – especially the length. I’d put it in the ‘decent but innocuous cosy’ category – not something I read a lot of but OK for those occasions when I don’t want anything too demanding.

  4. I rather like the author, but I didn’t think this book was her best – I’ve no idea why they decided to translate this one first. Maybe it was the exoticism in the carpet subplot? But that’s hardly typical of the series. It’s true you don’t need any background to follow the book, but I think if you’ve got some you’re more inclined to look kindly on the meanderings, because I’d acquired quite a lot of goodwill over the course of the rest of the series.

  5. I also wondered about the choice of this book – since the publicity material referred to “medical thrillers” and the wife of Claes Claesson, a physician, is one of the minor characters here. I was expecting her to play a larger role, and she was a character who seemed to have more to offer.

    The issue of how much one wants to see of recurring characters and their lives is an interesting one. I enjoy series, but I can get irritable when the only role recurring characters play in a story is to fill us in on what’s going on in their lives. Of course, it would be unrealistic for them to all be deeply involved in each mystery – but it’s a tricky balancing act, and I suspect readers bring different expectations to each new series book. Years ago I enjoyed some of Martha Grimes’s Richard Jury books, but when it seemed the same conversations among the same characters occurred book after book, I gave up. For other readers, that was what they enjoyed most.

    It’s a good thing there are so many books – we don’t have to have the same tastes.

  6. I think Istanbul is a draw right now. It’s an international city, has thousands of years of history and fascinates many. That may be why this book was chosen. Now after reading the comments, I’m not so sure I’ll seek this one out.

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