The Wolf and the Watchman begins in Stockholm in 1793. Sweden is weakened by war and corruption. The king is in terror of a revolution like that seen in France and clamps down ruthlessly on all opposition. The poor and the weak are brutalised and demonised. But even in this dark time, the mutilated corpse discovered by watchman and former soldier Cardell suggests a crime of exceptional depravity.
He agrees to work alongside Winge, a clever and eccentric investigator brought in by the police to solve the crime. Winge is a man of fierce intellect, brought low by disease. He clings to Enlightenment values and insists that rationality is at the heart of human behaviour despite all he sees around him, and the contradictions in his own history.
The Wolf and the Watchman combines realism with a number of conventions from novels of the period – the remote and sinister mansion, the implausibly long letter which makes up a significant section of the novel, the consumptive genius, the rakes living precariously on gambling and debt, the horrors of the workhouse.
As I was reading I wondered if I was focusing on these tropes to try and distance myself from the terrible suffering portrayed in the novel. It is a (literally) gut-wrenching book and one that forces you to confront the worst of human behaviour.
The Wolf and the Watchman is beautifully written and vividly evokes the place and the period. It throws a startling light on a decaying political order. It’s definitely worth the read, if you have the stomach.
I received a copy of The Wolf and the Watchman from the publisher via Netgalley.
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Enjoyed this? If you like literary thrillers, take a look at my review of Kill [redacted] by Anthony Good