Ake Edwardson’s mystery thriller, The Shadow Woman, opens with a scene that was both dramatic and suspenseful. There’s no way I could have read the first paragraph without finishing the first chapter. Unfortunately, the pace of the suspense slowed down considerably after the first chapter. The book’s interspersed detective scenes featuring the main character of the book, Chief Inspector Erik Winter, were a bit dry and seemed to wander without a sense of purpose.
Perhaps it was partly due to the translated writing. The author, Ake Edwardson, is Swedish, and I found the English translation to be both a pro and a con for me. It was refreshing to read a detective novel not set in New York or Los Angeles. His intimate knowledge of the book’s setting in Sweden gave me a sense of almost being there, feeling the oppressive summer heat contrasted with the predominantly grey autumn. I was able to visualize the chaotic street festival party and the sense of almost frenzied transition brought on by the end of the summer season. However, much of the details and action included in the story seemed superfluous to the plot.
I have to admit that a bit of the language was lost on me in some of the minor descriptive details of scenes. For example, when the main character was described as drinking “a quart of water” with lunch, that seemed like a significant amount of water to me, simply because it would have been an unusual choice of words for an American reader. Was it intentional to show that the character was very thirsty, or was this one of those mannerisms that didn’t translate well? When the band, The Clash, is repetitively described as a “rock band,” I am a bit put off. I think of them in terms of one of the original punk rock bands that started a new movement in music, not a classic rock band such as The Eagles or The Rolling Stones. Also, the concept of residents being terrorized or fearful of a motorcycle gang was difficult for me to imagine, but maybe that’s just my limited perspective based on the American cities in which I’ve lived (Los Angeles, San Francisco, Miami, Boston, and Chicago). As with any book translated into many languages though, the reader must set aside these little nuances of language and pop culture in order to engage with the plot and the characters. In this case, the murder mystery was the driving force of the novel, and focusing on that put me back on track each time I got distracted by the nitty-gritty details.
“Winter looked at the dead woman’s face once again. It had an oval shape, rounded off. The eyes were set wide apart; the mouth was large. Her long hair looked unkempt, but Winter wasn’t sure. That sort of thing could have to do with the victim’s age, maybe with her style.”
Even though the mystery and suspense unfolded at a slightly slower pace than what I would expect of a suspense novel, I can say that by approximately one-third of the way into the book, I became much more engaged in the story. In fact, when a twist came into play about halfway through the book, I was eager to read on to find out what would happen. Overall, it was a decent read, particularly if you enjoy a good mystery. It did make me curious enough that I would consider reading more Ake Edwardson novels. He has written a series of mysteries featuring the main character, Chief Inspector Erik Winter.
This article was first published as “Book Review: The Shadow Woman by Ake Edwardson” in Blogcritics Magazine.