The Fire Witness

If you’re a fan of Nordic Noir and enjoy the likes of Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbø, you’re certain to love the Joona Linna series of detective novels from Lars Kepler. That’s the pseudonym of the Swedish husband-and-wife team of Alexander Ahndoril and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril. Both are successful novelists in their own right. Together they’ve created seven books to date featuring the Finnish investigator who is “the best detective in Sweden.” The Fire Witness, the third book in the series, is a brilliant example.

He’s “the best detective in Sweden”

Joona Linna is a figure of a type familiar to mystery fans. He’s a member of the elite National Homicide Unit—brilliant, intuitive, impatient, disdainful of bureaucratic rules, stubborn to a fault. “His tendency to go his own way annoys a lot of people, but in less than fifteen years he has solved more complex cases in Scandinavia than any other police detective.” Joona is also among the walking wounded, having lost his wife and daughter a dozen years earlier.

The Fire Witness (Joona Linna #3) by Lars Kepler (2018) 550 pages ★★★★★ 

A teenage girl has been murdered—but that’s not all

As The Fire Witness opens, Joona has been suspended from duty. He’s under investigation by Internal Affairs for having tipped off the target of a raid by the Security Service. We can only imagine that he was morally justified in doing so. But when a teenager is murdered at the Birgitta Children’s Home for delinquent girls, and the local police decline to call in the National Homicide Unit, Joona’s boss has little alternative but to call him in to act as an “observer” and, in reality, take over the investigation. No one on active duty could pretend to be a mere observer.

The murder at the Children’s Home appears to be an open-and-shut case. A fifteen-year-old named Vicky Bennett has apparently crushed the skull of another girl in the middle of the night and fled through the window in her room. And to make matters worse, she has carjacked an automobile on the highway from a young female priest whose four-year-old son is in the back seat.

Mysteries within mysteries in a case tailor-made for “the best detective in Sweden”

Of course, the case is far more complicated than it seems to the police. For one thing, there have been two murders at the Children’s Home, not one. A nurse there named Elisabet Grim has been killed, too, and in a similar fashion (though with a different weapon). Joona quickly notices signs that Vicky Bennett may not be the culprit, but the local police and prosecutor are unwilling to consider any other possibility.

To complicate matters further, a woman who lives in a nearby town who pretends to be a psychic insists that she has information about Vicky Bennett’s murder. The police refuse to take her seriously—except for Joona. Even though the “psychic” admits she has no supernatural powers, and Joona has never believed in such things anyway, there are hints that the woman knows something she couldn’t possibly have learned through the press.

Meanwhile, Joona is also pursuing a mysterious older woman with dementia who appears to have information about his wife and daughter. They’re not dead, she insists.

An outstanding example of the mystery writer’s craft

Lars Kepler masterfully weaves together all these disparate threads of the story, building suspense to a fever pitch. Naturally, “the best detective in Sweden” will eventually solve the case, but a whole lot happens along the way. And I would defy any reader to quit midway through before reaching the shattering conclusion to this novel. The Fire Witness is an outstanding example of the mystery writer’s craft.

For additional reading

Check out The best Nordic noir series from Sweden, Norway, Denmark, and Iceland.

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