The Wolf and the Watchman opens on an early morning in 1793, when watchman Mickel Cardell is awakened from his drunken slumber with reports of a body seen floating in a nearby bog on Stockholm’s Southern Isle. This is the beginning of an unbelievably bestial crime story, as the body belongs to a man whose limbs were severed one at a time over several months.
Identifying the victim and his killer falls to Cecil Winge, a brilliant and still uncorrupt lawyer, who enlists Cardell’s help to solve the case. The odd duo of Winge, about to die from tuberculosis, and the crippled and drunken Cardell, set out to scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity and what has happened to him. The novel includes flashbacks and multiple perspectives, but Winge and Cardell keep the reader on the track and as the story develops their characters become thoroughly engaging, bringing compassion and heart to a confusing and grotesque mystery.
The novel is set in late 18th century Stockholm and besides the cruel crime story it evokes a society characterized by violence, injustice and despair. Sweden is slowly recovering from the war with Russia and since the king´s assassination the nation is ruled with an iron fist by the corrupt aristocracy. Times are desperate and the story brings horror-inducing descriptions of the lives and deaths of the poor inhabitants of Stockholm. The author paints a vivid but dark portrait and doesn´t back away from the dirt, drunkenness, filth, cynicism, poverty and disease in which most of Stockholm’s population existed. Some might even find his descriptions of the underbelly of the city a bit too realistic…
The Wolf and the Watchman is the literary debut by journalist and musician Niklas Natt och Dag (his last name means Night and Day) and it was named Best Debut Novel of 2017 by the Swedish Academy of Crime Writers. Funnily enough, the author himself has an undeniable connection to Swedish history, being a direct descendant of Sweden´s oldest surviving noble family. His ancestors were responsible for the murder of the rebel Engelbrekt in 1436, commanded the army that lost Stockholm to the Danes in 1520 (the Stockholm bloodbath), and took part in the Swedish war on Russia that provides a backdrop to The Wolf and the Watchman. His own interest in history started very early and he has always dreamt of becoming an author. Inspired by Umberto Eco´s famous book In the Name of the Rose he set out on an extensive research about late 18th-century Stockholm, which resulted in this violent crime drama set in a very well portrayed historical setting – and extremely well written.
You´ll find a review by Declan Burke in The Irish Times.