Wednesday, June 5, 2019

The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith

Summary: In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malm�, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. 

These are their stories.

The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf 'the Wolf" Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master. (Summary and pic from

My Review: I really love Alexander McCall Smith’s Precious Ramotswe series. The first book in that series (and by this point there are 19 out, and #20 is on the way so you know I’m not the only one who likes them) is the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency. It takes place in Botswana for the most part and features the lovely and infinitely wise Precious Ramotswe. She is a treat to read about and I love the books. They are so warm and just lovely. McCall Smith as several other series that are also very popular, but I haven’t read them yet. When I saw that he had this new series coming out featuring Detective Varg, I thought I would try it out.

One of my fave things about McCall Smith is he really seems to have the pulse on human nature. I find that his insights are spot on and often written about in a way that I hadn’t thought of before. They’re rarely earth-shattering, but more like a quiet gem of wisdom that leaves me feeling like maybe I’m not alone in thinking or doing what I do. He really is magical that way. There was quite a bit of that in this book, as I would assume is also par for the course in his other books. It certainly is in the Precious Ramotswe series, but since that’s the only series I’ve read, I wasn’t sure. Now I’m thinking that knowing the human psyche better than it knows itself is one of his specialties.

Like the Precious Ramotswe series, these are big mysteries that are made to feel small in the grand scheme of things. That isn’t to say that McCall Smith is belittling to people’s problems, but he is able to step back and see that these are big problems with big consequences, but address them in a way that makes the reader feel like even a most hopeless situation is not a lost cause. It doesn’t always end up really well for everyone, but there is a certain point of resolution that feels satisfying, even if it isn’t necessarily the way the reader thought it would end.

My biggest complaint about this book is that it is very similar to the Precious Ramotswe series. It didn’t feel new at all. Yes, the main character is a man (and so I’m thinking maybe this is the Precious Ramotswe series for men?) and it takes place in Sweden and in an official government capacity (whereas Precious is a private detective) but other than that, it felt very similar. In fact, I would say that Detective Varg is a very similar personality to Precious. Now, is this bad? Not necessarily. I love Precious Ramotswe. It just wasn’t original, and also, the fact that it was new means that I didn’t feel as connected or the stories as developed as the ones in No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. I wouldn’t say the book was boring, but the quiet manner in which McCall Smith writes is such that a rich history over, say, 20 books, really adds to the characters and the stories, whereas this is new and didn’t have a lot to add in that department. That being said, that doesn’t mean that this series doesn’t have places to go that will be very different from the other series. It is entirely possible that this is a gateway book to hook readers like me who love Precious into a new series. We shall see.

If you are a fan of Alexander McCall Smith, I think you should certainly check this out. If you’ve never read anything he’s done, I definitely think you should. He’s a truly great author with a really unique, insightful writing style that I find delightful.

My Review: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: This book has some very mild and vague discussion of adult topics, but it is clean.

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