Anyone who loves Scandi-noir as much as I do, will have read or watched on television the Wallander novels of Henning Mankell.
Italian Shoes and his very last novel, After the Fire are classic Mankell, taut dramas involving few people but extraordinary crimes. I have linked these two novels in one post because although they stand alone, they also involve one character, a surgeon Frederick Welin.
In both novels, we find Frederick hiding in his isolated house in the Swedish archipelago, alone on his island. In Italian Shoes, he has recently been involved in a terrible surgical miscalculation and has left his practice and the ensuing scandal and retired to his island when he is surprised in the middle of winter to see a figure struggling across the ice.
This is his past catching up with him, Harriet, a woman he once loved and abandoned has tracked him down to extract from him a promise made many years before and bringing him news that will surprise him.
To avoid plot spoilers I have to stop there, but believe me, it is worth finding out what happens next.
Moving on, we next meet Frederick still in his isolation, now aged seventy. Right at the start of the novel, he wakes to find his house burning down around him. He struggles out alive, in his pyjamas and boots, but in his haste he has picked up two left footed boots. Everything else he has ever owned is burnt to cinders.
Neighbours arrive to help, but there are fewer of them anyway as it is winter and the summer visitors have all gone. The retired postman, Ture Jansson, lends him a right-footed boot, but oddly not a pair and is helpful and concerned.
These are classic Mankell details, it is on these little things that one is hooked as surely as a fish on a line.
The police and fire inspectors follow, this is clearly arson and Frederick seems the most likely candidate, who else? Welin summons his daughter, someone whose existence he has only known about since she was twenty; another surprise. Their relationship is tense and often fractious but he knows deep down he still feels responsible for her, and sometimes even love.
There is an accumulating sense of dread and menace in this novel and once again I will not go further, for fear of giving away too much.
They make a brilliant pair of novels, but equally can be read one without the other. Both are worth the time, and the pages will flash by; these are the sorts of novels that make you miss your station (Underground or Overground), you will be so absorbed.