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Description - The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg novel by Alexander McCall Smith

Mister Varg is a Sandinavian Blanc novel. Scandinavian Blanc is different from Scandinavian Noir: there is nothing noir about the world of 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.

THE DEPARTMENT OF SENSITIVE CRIMES introduces us to the world of this typically Scandinavian character and his friends and colleagues. Further adventures are planned.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9781408711255
Format: Paperback / softback
(232mm x 152mm x 28mm)
Pages: 240
Imprint: Little, Brown
Publisher: Little, Brown Book Group
Publish Date: 7-Mar-2019
Country of Publication: United Kingdom

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Book Reviews - The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg novel by Alexander McCall Smith

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Book Review: The Department of Sensitive Crimes: A Detective Varg novel by Alexander McCall Smith - Reviewed by (13 Apr 2019)

5 stars The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first full-length novel in the Detective Varg series by popular British author, Alexander McCall-Smith. And he’s having a lend of us, the reader. If that’s not obvious from the title and the characters, then the cases they deal with should confirm it. Those characters, though, do give him enormous scope for insightful observations and wise words.

The DoSC consists of Carl (incredibly conscientious), Erik (obsessed by fishing), Ulf (kind and sensitive and in impossible love with his married colleague), Anna. The annoyingly enthusiastic but less than competent Officer Blomquist also lends a hand. And let’s not forget Martin, Ulf’s deaf, depressed, lip-reading dog, Mrs Hogfors, his neighbour and Dr Svensson, his therapist.

The cases, passed on from Malmö’s Criminal Investigation Authority because they are slightly unusual, are also a rich source of material for philosophical discussion: an unwitnessed stabbing in the back of a knee; a missing boyfriend who’s imaginary; and a possible werewolf. As Ulf and his team carry out their investigations, they are extremely prone to heading off on (often amusing) tangents during questioning. All are successfully resolved, but not without much deep discussion of the behaviours encountered.

McCall Smith’s characters discuss, debate and ponder topics as diverse as imaginary friends, politically correct terminology for small people, the canine environmental footprint, osmotic knowledge, vegan objection to pets and whether the obsessed can be happy.

When Ulf muses on gentlemanly behaviour, it’s very pertinent to the current “me too” cases: “...although he knew that nobody talked about being a gentleman any more, the concept still existed somewhere under the burden of the new language of relationships, the language that stressed self-determination and personal space. That was not all that different from the code of gentlemanly conduct that had previously prevented men from inappropriate conduct in their relations with women. The things that men were now supposed not to do were precisely the things that gentlemen were not meant to do anyway - so what was the difference? Were we simply becoming old-fashioned again, as societies tended to do when they saw the consequences of tearing up the behavioural rule book?”

While it sounds like a crime novel, McCall Smith describes it as Scandi Blanc (as opposed to Scandi Noir) and anyone who is reading his work for the crime aspect has the wrong end of the stick: McCall Smith’s crime books are an exercise in examining human behaviour and the gentle philosophy which that inspires. Delightfully tongue-in-cheek.


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