The Wolf and the Watchman: The latest Scandi sensation
By Niklas Natt och Dag
‘The best historical thriller I’ve read in twenty years’ A.J. FinnTweet
The Wolf and the Watchman is a historical mystery, set in 18th Century Sweden. Written by Niklas Natt och Dag it was voted the Best Debut Novel by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers in 2017. It's a book that polarised opinion in our book group. The split was roughly 50:50 between those who enjoyed it and couldn’t put it down, and those who had found it almost unreadable.
Mikel Cardell is the watchman of the title who has returned home from war a cripple, having lost an arm. He discovers the torso of a sightless, blond young man drifting in the sea on the shoreline of Stockholm and becomes obsessed with finding out what happened to him. The case is handed to the Director of Prosecution for the city, Cecil Winge, and together they set out to investigate. Winge is dying from consumption but is determined to avenge the victim by finding whoever is guilty of the murder. Piecing together the clues takes the men from the brutal world of Stockholm’s slums to the highest levels of society before they find the murderer and the man who ordered the killing.
Oxo was one of the people who enjoyed it:
‘It’s a very sombre tale of cruelty and corruption and I had to force myself to read some of the more gruesome sections. But the story was so well-drawn, and the motivation of the dying prosecutor and a simple former soldier to solve this horrific crime was so thought-provoking, that I found myself thinking about this book for days after I had finished reading it. It may not be for the fainthearted but the detailed detective work between the extreme poverty and wealth of the city makes this a very unusual tale. I have to give it 5-Stars.’
Calendar Girl was also positive:
I liked the setting [1793 Stockholm] even though it was so grim. The dirt, drunkenness, filth, poverty, disease and cynicism were unsettling but the atmosphere and characters made the story compelling. I give this 4-Stars.
Bunny was another who enjoyed it:
‘This was a highly enjoyable book. It’s written in four parts, beginning with the discovery of a dismembered torso with head, and it graphically depicts the harshness of life during this period of history. I liked the fact the story has two ‘heroes’ [Cardell and Winge] and although the ending is neat – and possibly predictable – happy endings are what I like! I give it 4-Stars.’
At the opposite end of the scale, Freyja, Clover and Cornish Eskimo all found the book very difficult to read and gave it a low score (a minus rating in one case). The discussion we had at our meeting was lively but at the end we all had to agree that you never can tell who will like what! This book pulled extreme responses from everyone who read it. And whether or not people enjoyed it, it was certainly thought-provoking.
Oundle Library's Crime Fiction Book Group
The setting for this book is medieval Sweden when everything and everyone is dirty, grim, gruesome and untrustworthy. Nothing is done without a self serving reason. Primarily the reason is mere survival because everyone is living on the edge of dying from pestilence, starvation or being killed. A horribly mutilated body is found by a city guard who is a drunken, debauched brawler. A retired lawyer who is dying of consumption becomes aware of this desecrated body and makes it his mission in life to first identify the body and then bring to justice the killer. The two men band together in a strange alliance to solve this mystery.
I did not like this book at all. But feel compelled to give it the highest rating. I did not like it because the writing was so well done that the entire time I was reading I felt the filth and smelled the smells and could see the grossness surrounding everything. I felt the evil and did not like the fear it called up in me. Bravo to the author who is brilliant and supremely talented to have taken this old Swedish tale and translated it into this masterful book.
Fantastic - was gripped from the first page right through to the last page !!
A compelling storyline set in a torrid medieval Sweden but with the main plot centred on a dying lawyer who hooks up with an x soldier to solve a particularly and perplexing murder - a relationship which against the odds works in a way that affirms life ironically - the characters are developed in a very subtle and entirely credible way.
The scant value of life in these times makes for tough reading throughout but whilst brutal and graphic it never feels overdone.
great writing and fabulous translating
This book is not for the faint hearted and probably not to be read before you go to sleep in case you have nightmares. Having said that I found it compelling and I wanted to know what happened in the end. It required quite a lot of concentration but it all came together in the end. It was very graphic in its description of the poverty, brutality and the almost hopelessness of life in Sweden at the end of the 18th century but it did make you want to research further into what Sweden was like at that time. It is probably a book that you have to persevere with and not give up too soon but it is well worth it.
This thriller set in Sweden in the 18th century is one of the best I've read for a long while. Some of the harrowing narrative stuck in my mind and although I was keen to find out where the twists and turns would go I didn't read it late at night to avoid nightmares. The ending I thought was excellent, the author tied everything up in my opinion very satisfactorily.
This book is excellent. A thriller set in the dark past when gruesome happenings were the things of everyday life. Cecil Winge, a lawyer dying of consumption, is determined to solve one final case, but will it be unravelled and the perpetrator brought to justice before final illness takes his own life?
Stockholm is not a pleasant place at that time; reeking ordure, starving poor residents, cheap death, short days and long, dark, freezing nights in winter. It will take a man of keen intellect and strong character to bring to justice the evil murderer of the badly mutilated corpse that is dragged from the cesspool known locally as the Larder.
Not for the feint-hearted or those with vivid imaginations, this book deserved to be a best seller. Watch out for nightmares... This book is a translation from Swedish and I commend the translator. It reads really well in English.
This is a very well written (and translated) book, but it is not for the faint-hearted. It is basically a detective story set in Stockholm in the 1790s, but is depraved, grim, grisly and violent. However, if you can, stick with it - you will not be disappointed - but don’t read it at bedtime!
Oh my goodness, where to start?
This book should come with a Public Health Warning...it WILL give you nightmares! The author's masterful descriptions paint a picture so realistic that you can't help but be affected by what you are reading.
Dark, depraved, unrelentingly grim, graphic....but strangely addictive. Definitely not a summer holiday read!
A brilliant book.
The Wolf and the Watchman is set in Stockholm in 1793 and opens with a mutilated body being found by Mickel Cardell, a former soldier who has been invalided out of active service and given a token role as a night watchman. The corpse needs to be identified in order to give the man a decent burial. To achieve this end Cardell teams up with Cecil Winge, a brilliant, if eccentric lawyer who now acts as a consultant detective to the local police force. Winge is not without his own problems as he is dying of consumption but he is determined to complete one last case before succumbing to the disease. This unlikely duo embark on a journey through Stockholm’s underworld, a dark and dangerous place where they encounter an eclectic mix of unsavoury characters as well as a few that restore our faith in humanity.
This is an extraordinary book. In essence, it is a murder mystery set in 18th Century Sweden, but it is so much more than that. Firstly, I would like to commend both the author on an extremely well written book and the translator on converting it into an extremely well-written English language book. My knowledge of Swedish history is, I’m afraid, non-existent but the book is written with a confidence that convinced me of its authenticity in terms of life as it would have been back then. The construction of the book is unusual in the sense that, for the most part, it goes backwards chronologically. I didn’t think that this would work, but in this instance it really does. The characters are brilliantly portrayed and really come alive on the page, even if most of the time I wish they hadn’t! It is also a very gripping and exciting book - after a slightly slow start, I was riveted right up until the end.
The book however, is not without its downside. Bizarrely this is not a function of the book itself, but a potential issue with the audience who might read it. To misquote a common phrase “it contains scenes which some readers may find disturbing”. Basically it is brutal, gruesome and hard-hitting with an undercurrent of pure evil running throughout the whole book. On one occasion when I read it at night I had a seriously scary nightmare, the likes of which I have not had since I was a child. As far as I am concerned this aspect of the book did not detract from its brilliance, but it is worth mentioning as some readers may be both offended and distressed by it.
Would I recommend this book? Certainly I would, but with a warning that it is not for the faint-hearted. Having said that, well done Niklas – it is a fantastic novel.