Wednesday, October 18, 2006

"The Multicolored Herring", by Bertil Falk

From: CrimeSpree Magazine #14

"I had a case many years ago, a very strange case. It involved a disabled woman. She wove rag-rugs."

And so begins "The Multicolored Herring" by Bertil Falk. At least, that's the way it should have begun. In fact the story begins with several paragraphs of throat-clearing, giving the background of the elderly narrator and his childhood friend who became a policeman. It's this character, Roland, who relates the story of the rag-rugs. And, being set in Sweden, the story does involve a herring, albeit a metaphorical one.

After this clunky beginning the story rolls along quite nicely. When Roland was still a young detective he handled a missing persons call from a woman whose husband had not been home for over a week. He traveled for business quite a bit, and she knew he was seeing other women as well, but he never stayed away for so long.

The woman herself had lost the use of her legs and had to get around with a wheelchair. Being homebound, she'd made the best of it by setting herself up as a weaver of colorful rag-rugs. Now, I had to guess what rag-rugs are and you probably will, too, but it's fairly clear from the context and doesn't run the story off the rails.

Soon the police find out that the man was active in the drug trade, and they manage to track down one of his mistresses. She'd seen him enter the local train station on the day he disappeared. But did he make it out of town alive?

The story is a bit dry, but in a police procedural a bare recital of the facts isn't fatal, and Falk has come up with an ingenious solution that relies on several factors coming together just so.

The device of a narrator relating a story within a story is an old one, occurring most commonly in stories from the late nineteenth century into the early twentieth. Joseph Conrad's Heart Of Darkness, for example, is told in this manner. Here it lends the story a conversational tone that keeps things moving, a bonus since plot is the focus more than character or mood.

The Swedish setting could have been explored a bit more, but it's mostly taken for granted, leading me to believe that Falk himself is Swedish, or is at least familiar with Sweden.

Final verdict: "The Multicolored Herring" is a pleasant diversion as long as you don't ask too much of it.

UPDATE: Five minutes on Google revealed this bio of Falk. Turns out he is in fact Swedish, and has written quite a bit in his native language. "The Multicolored Herring" is his fourth story published in English. Another story, "Blue Night, Blue City", is online at Hardluck Stories.

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