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by Karin Alvtegen
Translated from the Swedish by McKinley Burnett
Reviewed by Akeela Gaibie Dawood

A child of four is found abandoned in an amusement park with little more than some crumbs, an empty juice bottle, a tape recorder, and a Bambi book by his side. There's also a note: "Take care of this child. Forgive me." Thus, one is drawn into this neatly crafted novel, which keeps one rapt as layer upon layer is slowly and deftly revealed.

Some 30 years later, Gerda Persson's body is found three days after she has died at the age of 92, with no clue as to who she is. Astonishingly, her freezer yields a neatly sealed load of books by the Nobel laureate and national treasure, Axel Ragnerfeldt. On closer inspection, each book reveals a personal, handwritten inscription by the celebrated author to Gerda. What is the connection between Gerda Persson, Axel Ragnerfeldt, and the foundling?

This novel fits the crime and psychological thriller genre, but has no detective or investigator. The tale unfolds via the voices of Axel (interesting name, as everything revolves around him), his wife, son, housekeeper, and a couple of other key role players, including Kristoffer Sandeblom, a man in his thirties in search of his roots. As we glimpse each character's mindset and life experience, the story builds up gradually and compellingly revealing a picture of secrecy, deceit, crime and murder.

This is a dark book with very little light and many shadows. The biggest is arguably Ragnerfeldt's tour-de-force Shadow, which swayed the Nobel in his favour. The bright glow of this man's prominence casts a heavy shadow on all the people in his life, including his wife, the members of his family, friends, and even fellow-writers.

Axel Ragnerfeldt has climbed the ladder of success, but at what price? His bid for fame as a writer has left a set of disillusioned, embittered and pained individuals in its wake. Though the world adores him and looks up to him, he heads a deeply unhappy and dysfunctional family. At its core, the novel delves into the ramifications of accomplishment: What lengths are we prepared to go to ensure worldly success? And are all the sacrifices worth it, at the end of the day?

Karin Alvtegen is one of Sweden's popular writers, and Shadow won the Danish Best Crime Novel of the Year award and was shortlisted for the Swedish Academy of Crime Writer's Award. This is a quick, engaging read that abounds with revelations of dark secrets and intrigue, and keeps one spellbound until its inevitable and brilliant denouement.