I took Karin Alvtegen’s Missing on a long haul flight and read it in one sitting, but I’m sure that if I wasn’t stuck on a plane I would probably have done the same. The plot is gripping and the story moves along at a frenetic pace. I know it’s an over-used cliche, but the best description I can come up with is this: Missing is a real page turner.
Set in Stockholm, Sweden, it tells the story of a 32-year-old homeless woman, Sybilla Forsenstrom, who is accused of murdering a businessman in a city hotel.
When a second victim shows the same mysterious signs of mutilation that characterised the first murder, Sybilla becomes the most wanted woman in Sweden.
With a little help from an old friend and a teenage boy, Sybilla is able to avoid arrest. But her rising sense of panic coupled with a strong desire to clear her name begins to affect her judgement and the reader is left wondering why the police are taking so long to track her down. Surely, at some point, she’s going to make a major cock-up that will lead to her imminent arrest?
Intertwined with this woman-on-the-run narrative is a second storyline that examines Sybilla’s childhood. Raised by two emotionally remote parents, devoid of warmth and any real love, we find out what makes this resourceful woman tick.
Without wishing to spoil the ending, I can only say that it satisfyingly draws together all the elements of both narratives into one neat conclusion.
My only real quibble is that the news stories (about Sybilla’s alleged crimes) that Alvtegen intersperses throughout the novel do not ring true from a journalistic perspective — they’re not structured properly and lack attribution. I could forgive this oversight once, but when the book is littered with dozens of examples it begins to irritate.
Still, don’t let this put you off. Missing is ultimately a quick, entertaining read, much in the same vein as a Nicci French thriller, and you could do worse than read this little gem, which was awarded the premier Scandinavian crime writing award. It was also nominated for the Poloni Award and Best Crime Novel 2000 in Sweden.
Oh, and trivia buffs might like to know that Alvtegen is the great niece of Astrid Lindgren, author of Pippi Longstocking, so writing obviously runs in the family!