29 April 2024

Slackers, Lost Souls and a Serial Killer

In mysteries, as in every other category, fashion decrees novelty, and it is always pleasing to come across something new – or new again. Perhaps in response to the super heroes of the last few years, the Jack Reachers and Lisbeth Salanders of the thriller world, not to mention the high tech apparatus of procedurals, there have been some novels featuring not so polished heroes and not so much efficiency.

Mick Herron's Slough House series kicked off in 2010 with Slow Horses, named for the washed up and seemingly incompetent spies inhabiting Slough House. In 2019 Alexander McCall Smith debuted what his publisher calls Scandi Blanc, featuring a competent Inspector Ulf Varg investigating frankly whimsical crimes.

Now we have Anders de la Motte's, The Mountain King, the first in a promised trilogy, which combines super competent and alert investigator Leo Auster (reminiscent in more than one way of Lisbeth Salander) with The Resources Unit, AKA The Department of Lost Souls (a Slough House if there ever was one). Their truly trivial crime of the moment is a complaint about rogue figures appearing in a super-sized model train layout.

The Mountain King

Can this work? Well, yes it does. De La Motte manages the tricky combination of super cop, a young woman prepared, literally, for every conceivable danger by Prepper Per, her intelligent but seriously paranoid and sadistic father. Given dear old dad and her high powered lawyer mom, Leo has her problems and a decidedly difficult style of personal relations.

Unsurprisingly, she is not a great team player. Faced with a high profile kidnapping, she soon runs afoul of the powers that be and of her sworn enemy Jonas Hellman, a honcho in the National Police. Removed from the investigation partly because her mother is one of the victim's family lawyers, Leo is literally send downstairs to the Department of Lost Souls.

The department's prior head, the alcoholic and seemingly disorganized Bendt Sandgren, is seriously ill in hospital after a heart attack and a fall. He's left her with the case of the disturbed model railway setup, and Leo is not best pleased with either that or with the slackers who inhabit the department.

When she pushes ahead with her own line of investigation into the kidnapping, danger and mayhem ensue. This is all very satisfactory because, besides what looks like whimsical eccentricity, De La Motte has included a really chilling serial killer and one of the scarier hideouts in recent literature. If you are claustrophobic, read this one with a door or window open.

De La Motte channels Agatha Christie with a bevy of red herrings and suspects as well as creating very plausible inter-office tensions and rivalries. He himself served in the Swedish police force and clearly knows the territory.

Anders De la Motte
Anders De la Motte

So, this one has helpings of noir and Scandi blanc, too. Do we need a new category for the combo or like all good mysteries does The Mountain King need no label?

Janice Law's The Falling Men, a novel with strong mystery elements, has been issued as an ebook on Amazon Kindle. Also on kindle: The Complete Madame Selina Stories.

The Man Who Met the Elf Queen, with two other fanciful short stories and 4 illustrations, is available from Apple Books.

The Dictator's Double, 3 short mysteries and 4 illustrations also available at Apple Books.


  1. Delighted for these recommendations, Janice! These sound right down my alley (quirky). Thank you.

  2. Hope you will enjoy. La Motte has come up with an interesting blend.


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