The latest offering from international bestselling author Alexander McCall Smith, The Department of Sensitive Crimes, introduces us to Ulf Varg, a detective in the Sensitive Crimes Department in the Swedish city of Malmo.
Ulf is concerned with very odd, but not too threatening crimes – injuries to the back of the knee caused by an unknown hand, young women who allow their desperation for a boyfriend to get the better of them, and peculiar goings-on in a spa on Sweden’s south coast.
Of course, Ulf is a Swedish detective, and Swedish detectives, by convention, lead lives beset with problems of one sort or another. For a start, there is his name: Ulf derives from the Old Norse word for wolf and Varg means wolf in modern Swedish. But his character is far from vulpine: Ulf is a sympathetic, well-educated, and likeable man, with a knowledge of and interest in Nordic art. He has a dog called Marten, the only dog in Sweden who is capable of lip-reading (but only in Swedish). Martin becomes depressed and needs treatment. Dogs in Sweden are, apparently, particularly prone to Seasonal Affective Disorder. But this is summer – and there must be something else going on.
Ulf has a number of colleagues into whose lives we gain an insight. There is Anna, married to an anaesthetist, but very fond of Ulf; there is Erik, whose sole interest is fishing; Carl, whose father has written a book on the Danish philosopher, Kierkegaard; and there is poor Blomquist, from the uniformed branch, who goes on and on about health issues but who seems to have extraordinary luck in investigations. There is also Ulf’s psychotherapist, Dr Svensson, whose observations on Ulf’s life – and many other topics – enlightens – or possibly confuses.
Alexander McCall Smith is one of the world’s most prolific and best-loved authors. He has written and contributed to more than 100 books including short story collections and several immensely popular children’s books. But it wasn’t until the publication of the highly successful The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series that Alexander became a household name. In 2007 he received a CBE for services to literature.
The Department of Sensitive Crimes will be published 7th March courtesy of Little, Brown, available from Amazon.co.uk and other leading retailers.