Alexander McCall Smith introduces us to a new detective series with the Swedish-set novel The Department of Sensitive Crimes (Little, Brown and Company 2019). This prolific writer, with over 80 books and counting to his name, is famous for his gentle and meandering meditations on modern life, his moral and ethical quandaries, his eccentric and likeable characters, and the spotlight he shines on ‘everyman’ and ‘everywoman’ and often ‘everydog’ as he dissects the complexities of life and how we navigate them with our integrity intact.
This new novel features Detective Ulf Varg of Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Crimes division (Scandi blanc as opposed to Scandi noir), a section of the Swedish police that, much as its name suggests, is called upon to investigate crimes of a ‘sensitive’ nature. In this first book, this includes a rather odd attack upon the knee of a market trader, a man who has disappeared (if, in fact, he ever existed) and the complicated liaisons between a group of young women who purport to be friends but whose loyalties are divided.
Ulf Varg’s team consists of his colleagues Anna (for whom he has feelings, despite her commitment to another) and the enigmatic Erik, as well as the irritating addition of Blomquist. And Varg owns Martin, the only dog in Sweden who is able to lip-read. The story begins and ends with Varg visiting his therapist, Dr Svensson, who acts as a counterpoint to his taxing profession.
Readers of Alexander McCall Smith will know what to expect from his writing and can be confident that this will be the start of another series that is easy to read, light-hearted, funny, warm, witty and clever. His books are like a cup of warm cocoa before bed, never asking too much of the reader, but always leaving you with a feel-good glow. There is nothing terribly surprising or unexpected in this story, but that is perhaps exactly as his devoted readers like it.