Book review: In Open Grave, who will fill it is a mystery

Christine Foster Meloni
Washington, D.C.

It should be stated immediately that author Kjell Eriksson is Swedish, not Norwegian. He does, however, share several characteristics with currently popular Norwegian crime novelists, in particular, his careful character development of perpetrators and victims alike.

The novel opens with the very exciting news that Professor Bertram von Ohler has just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine. As is frequently the case when the Nobel Prize winners are announced, some people are pleased and others are not. The worthiness of the winners becomes a hot topic of debate.

book cover for Open Grave

In the case of Professor von Ohler, however, the reaction seems extreme. No one seems pleased. His colleagues in Sweden and especially those in Germany do not believe he deserves this high honor. In fact, they begin immediately to do what they can to convince the members of the Nobel Committee to reverse their decision and award it to someone else. They are angry!

The reader then begins to wait for the murder of von Ohler. After all, it is a crime novel and someone will surely be murdered. And the professor obviously has his enemies. After setting the stage with von Ohler as the protagonist, the author introduces two subplots. The first involves a series of live-in housekeepers in the von Ohler household, three sisters from a rural area in Sweden. The current one, Agnes, has worked for the family for over 50 years. Her sister Anna preceded her and left suddenly under mysterious circumstances. The other subplot involves a gardener hired by von Ohler’s neighbor who seems to have his eye on the professor and may be plotting against him. He has thrown a rock at his house and does admit hating him.

The reader is kept in suspense until near the end. A murder finally takes place, but who the victim is and whether the perpetrator is identified and brought to justice I will leave for you to discover. This novel is well written and keeps the reader’s attention until the surprising conclusion. Be sure to read the final paragraph with great care! If you don’t, you may think the novel has ended without a solution and be quite disappointed.

Open Grave by Kjell Eriksson (translated by Paul Norlen). New York: Minotaur Books. Paperback July 2016.

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at The George Washington University. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and international education. She was born in Minneapolis and currently lives in Washington, D.C. She values her Norwegian heritage.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 30, 2016, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

Christine Foster Meloni

Christine Foster Meloni is professor emerita at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. She has degrees in Italian literature, linguistics, and philosophy of education, and a doctorate in international education.

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