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The Wolf and the Watchman

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Member Reviews

Many thanks to NetGalley and Atria Books for the eARC in exchange for an honest review!

The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag, takes place in the late 1790's Stockholm when a mutilated corpse is found in a bog.  Mutilated isn't even the proper word, but an ex-lawyer named Winge and a watchman of sorts, Cardell, end up on the case together.   There are 4 parts to the book, each featuring a different character and set of gruesome horrors, telling the chain of events that led up to Cardell pulling the body out.

I haven't read any historical fiction set in Sweden or Stockholm, and the author did an intense job of portrating the depravity of the city in that period.  Corpses in snowbanks, poor and displaced people everywhere, drunkenness and botched executions, spies, it really is set in an interesting period.  

I just can't wrap my head around the things the characters suffered - dismemberment, torture in so many forms, beatings and whippings and rapes and sadistic guards, treating that body like a mannequin... This book is 100% not for the faint of heart but even if you skim the historical parts, anyone enjoying a goos mystery, thriller, medical horrors, etc should definitely read this.

It took me a while to get truly interested in the book, I don't know if it was the  writing style, all the history, or the first section in general, but then once Blix took over I was hooked.  Cardell and Winge didn't pull me in at first like the other characters, although in the fourth section I had come to like them a lot more and applauded how all the events tied together.  A circle of cruelty with the characters finding some kind of closure at the end - whether good, bad, or in death.

The english translation comes out in March of 2019 and I thank the publisher and NetGalley again for letting me read the early copy!
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About two years ago, I heard someone say that they didn’t like a book because it put thoughts in her head that she didn’t want polluting hear brain. After reading The Wolf and the Watchman, by Niklas Natt och Dag, I now know exactly what she felt like. This novel is almost relentlessly vile, as character after character is shown to be violent, duplicitous, or sadistic. There are almost no good people in this book and lots of very bad things happen to just about everyone. It is as if someone took the author aside and said, look, people like dark books, so go and write the darkest, grimmest, nastiest things your brain can come up with. That’s what reading The Wolf and the Watchman is like.

The novel begins with two children hauling Stockholm watchman, Mikel Cardell (violent), out of his drunk and take him to a body found in an open sewer. Cardell retrieves the body, only to find that it is entirely limbless, with its eyes, tongue, and teeth removed. When dying former lawyer-turned-detective Cecil Winge (manipulative) finds out about the case, he wants to solve it and asks Cardell to be his partner. Once Cardell is beaten up in a sure sign that the pair are on to something and they both discover the incredibly awful fate of their murder victim, we are taking on a long side trip to learn about the last months of Kristopher Blix (a naive coward who really will do anything to save his skin) and learn how Anna Stina Knapp became a woman willing to do shockingly awful things to stay out of the workhouse.

The side trips are relevant, but it takes a while to understand how they’re related to the overall plot—especially Anna Stina’s story. It’s only in the last quarter of the book that we rejoin Cardell and Winge for a series of hairpin plot twists and even more appalling revelations as they finally discover who their victim was and how he came to be floating in sewage.

I was drawn to The Wolf and the Watchman because of its setting. I clearly am a sucker for places and times I haven’t yet visited in fiction. This book was also described as The Alienist in Sweden and I just couldn’t resist. I wish I had. This book is not among the best of the Scandinoir tradition; it’s not even among the second best. The characters give unnatural speeches. The motive behind the main crime is implausible and convoluted. And all of this is on top of almost 400 pages of relentless inhumanity. I don’t recommend it at all.
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I enjoyed the book from the perspective of presenting a mystery/horror-ish genre in a nontraditional matter. 

The book starts with discovery of a body with no limbs, tongue, or eyes. Winge (officer) is searching for the perpetrator of the crime. Then, the book transitions to gradually introducing the key characters with their history that are connected to the truth of what has happened! Winge dies from sickness in peace knowing the truth of the crime. 

The suspense is not felt like a normal horror/mystery book but rather reads like a historical fiction. As a warning to readers, there are portions of the book where the details are explicitly expressed in a gruesome, dark way! That personally convinced me that the book's genre is a mixture of mystery/historical/horror.
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Set after the Russo-Swedish War (no, I hadn't heard of this war before), Jean Michael "Mickel" Cardell, an armless watchman, discovers a limbless, dead body in a river. Cecil Winge is a lawyer consulted to help the police with this mysterious body. Winge is not-so-secretly dying of consumption. This is just the first part of the book. Overall, the descriptions are brutal and violent yet still entertaining enough to want to find out what happens. I learned a great deal about the underbelly of Sweden during the late 1790s, perhaps even more than I bargained for. 

Thank you to Netgalley for this ARC.
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There is no getting over the fact that reading The Wolf and the Watchman was disturbing. When a body is found near Stockholm, Cecil Winge, an investigator, and Mickel Cordell, a watchman are an unlikely pair who join forces to track down the killer. These two men, one suffering from consumption, and one who has lost his arm are working against the clock to unmask the victim as well as the killer.
The setting of this novel, in 1793, means life is hard. There is disease, corruption, and nothing like a forensic scientist to pop up and provide a clue. The picture that the author paints is vivid, and dark, and gruesome, so I wouldn't recommend this for the faint of heart. Yet, it does pull you into an intriguing mystery and as long as you can see beyond the gory aspects, it comes together in a way that makes perfect sense. You will need to have a strong stomach to see beyond the cruelty, but if you do, you will see the author has a gift with words. Dark and twisted doesn't even begin to do The Wolf and the Watchman justice.
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"The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag" (2019; Swedish original 2017)

"The depravity of our species is a rule without exception."
— Cecil Winge in "The Wolf and the Watchman"

Is this book for you? Have you found yourself rereading the opening of Foucault's "Discipline and Punish," the section about the 1757 execution of Robert-François Damiens? Did you enjoy the wood chipper episode in "Fargo"? Are you a fan of books like "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo" or "Silence of the Lambs"? Do you imagine your pleasure for those books would be increased were their narratives parachuted into late 18th-century Stockholm? Would lice, chamber pots, amateur amputations, rotting flesh, and stinging cold be the literary spices to make your reading entrée more delicious? Here's an amuse-bouche from "The Wolf and the Watchman" to test your palate:

    "A dozen men at a time get up on top of a single victim, holding on to each other's shoulders and waists for balance, and then bounce by bending and straightening their knees. Soon the prisoner's body gives way. The chest bursts with a bang, the skull is trampled flat with such force that the eyeballs shoot across the cobblestones. Under all of them is a bloody mess where no one can tell any longer which body part was attached where."

Part of the defense for what goes on in this novel (I understand some won't think a defense is necessary) rests with the novelist who underscores the extensive research he did about late 18th-century Stockholm. Another defense would be that the depravity addressed by the main character in the tale needs to be considered seriously, the way you might take up Klossowski's "Sade My Neighbor." Pondering the dark side of the Enlightenment has intellectual merit. Cultural products like "The Wolf and the Watchman" might present an accurate version of the complex constitution of the modern subject. The worldwide popularity of Natt och Dag's book tells us about the current cultural landscape that is likely ignored at our peril.

A Dutch interviewer spoke with the author who describes the book's characters:

    "There are four. Mickel Cardell is a war veteran who lost his left forearm during the Swedish Russian War from 1788 to 1790. Like many other war veterans with injuries, he got a job as a city guard in Stockholm. His job is mainly to supervise prostitution. Mikel, however, cares little about his duties, he considers the prostitutes especially as women who have badly affected life and is also quite a drinker. Cecil Winge is a kind of lawyer who is occasionally called in by the police. He is the enlightened type, the man of reason. He is rather inspired by the figure Sherlock Holmes, although I did not want to emphasize that too much. He has poor health due to tuberculosis. Then there is Kristofer Blix, who has the leading role in the second part of the book, a 16-year-old young man who has the dream of ever becoming a surgeon. Finally, there is Anna Stina Knapp, a young girl who is accused of being a prostitute and who is brought to a workhouse against her will."

Like David Mitchell's novels, Natt och Dag constructs his by splicing the narrative into what seem at first unrelated strands that eventually tie together by the close.

Some readers will feel pulverized after finishing "The Wolf and the Watchman," the way you might feel were you to binge watch only the Ramsay Bolton sections of "Game of Thrones." What saves the novel from its arguable excesses is the lessons it offers about justice — one, that those with an obsession for justice are less those living the high life and more those who have suffered injustice, and two, that achieving justice might require some fiction, some falsehood and manipulation that might involve a disappointment about justice, i.e.,  that it cannot always do its own work, be had in untainted forms by allowing itself to unfold according to a prescribed process (precedent). I suspect Lady Justice's blindfold is in place deliberately to allow her to avoid seeing such manipulations done in her name. In other words, justice doesn't look like a happy ending. This latter point is addressed in a recent film, "Agatha and the Truth of Murder" (2018). The film, not approved by Christie's estate, corroborates something asserted by one of Christie's characters: "The truth, however ugly in itself, is always curious and beautiful to seekers after it." That kind of beauty could be assigned to Niklas Natt och Dag's novel.
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The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt och Dag is a fascinating and unique novel and my interest never flagged from beginning to end. Cecil Winge, the detective/lawyer facing a losing battle with consumption, and Jean Michael (Mickel) Cardell, a watchman with a wooden arm, haunted by the ghost of a war long over, make an unlikely, but likable duo. Together they search for the killer of a brutally murdered man they have named Karl Johan, found in the Larder by Cardell. Bizarre, gruesome, and debauched, The Wolf and the Watchman with its prostitutes, crooked politicians, and more than its share of drunken con men is not for the faint of heart, but for those who dare, is a great and unputdownable book of 18th century Stockholm.
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Niklas Natt och Dag has written a disturbing mystery of Sweden in 1793, a time of turmoil and simmering violence.  A cruelly dismembered body is found in rancid lake waters near Stockholm and two disparate investigators join forces to find the killer.  Mickel Cardell is a watchman with a wooden left arm who drinks to excess and Cecil Winge, a lawyer dying from consumption, who has been conscripted by the chief of police to investigate the corpse and circumstances surrounding its grisly dismemberment.

During their search, letters written by a 17-year-old from Stockholm are discovered.  In them, the young man, who has been forced into slavery because of his debts, details actions that appear to tie into the murder.  His letters also lead the investigators to Anna Stina, a young woman who refused to marry a madman that subsequently led to her imprisonment for “whoring and intent to lead the innocent into sin.”  How this all ties together forms the plot of Natt och Dag’s novel.  He ties these stories together into an insidious plan that outlines the descent of lives into a miserable existence that blurs the difference between good and evil.

In an interview, the author stated that Umberto Eco’s debut novel, “The Name of the Rose,” prompted his interest in pursuing an entertaining detective fiction with a layer of historical fact and another layer of conflict between reason and chaos beneath that.

The writing is gritty.  The characters are severely damaged.  The actions of people in power are treacherous and cruel.  There is not much sunshine in this time of desperation and perversion.  The reader will enter a world that is so dark and cruel that cringing will likely accompany the words he or she reads.  If this is the world of your interest, you’ll find a new place to explore.
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Well-written, but brutal and ugly. At times, this reads more like torture porn than literary mystery novel and that makes it a hard sell. The book ends rather abruptly as well.
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1793, Stockholm, a vile and violent city of putrid smells and public executions. 
Cecil Winge is dying from consumption but he is pulled from the brink of extinction when the body of a mutilated and drowned man is discovered in the river and he is asked to investigate. Mickel Cardell, who lost an arm in a sea battle during the war, is helping Winge to investigate the murder. 
These two men, the wolf and the watchman, share confidences but not friendship—time is too short. 

 I do not think it too harsh to describe this book as gruesome. It will be too graphic and dark for many readers. While I’m not super sensitive about my reading content, I could not connect with this book in any way. It may be that Swedish noir is simply not my thing. I thought this book read a little bit like the Thomas de Quincy series from David Morrell and I loved that series so I’m not sure why I got so impatient with this one.
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As familiar as I am with Nordic mysteries, this is my first historical novel and, other than they have a very famous king called Gustav, I knew nothing about Swedish history. The Wolf and the Watchman did a great job of reflecting the world in 1793, not only in Sweden but also the consequences of events taking place in other countries, such as the French Revolution. A watchman named Mikel Cardell finds a dead, mutilated body in a swamp. Lawyer Cecil Winge gets involved in the case and both work hard to find out who the victim was and who killed him. Before there were computers, DNA analysis or even running water, Cardell and Winge have a hard time finding out anything. There are other, apparently unrelated stories that end up being relevant to the overall plot. This is an atmospheric novel, very descriptive so it's a slow read. It is also very dark, depressing and not for the fainthearted, just because life back there was so hard. The stories combine into a consistent plot in a great way so it's really worth reading. 
I chose to read this book and all opinions in this review are my own and completely unbiased. Thank you, NetGalley/Atria Books!
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I thought this book sounded really interesting, and it was, but it was also a bit too gruesome for my taste. I’d definitely recommend it for people who really enjoy gruesome horror.
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I saw this available on NetGalley and couldn't resist the setting. 1793 Stockholm! I've had a nascent interest in the thriller genre in general and Nordic Noir in particular, so I went for it.

So as a disclaimer, I am not the normal audience for this type of thing. 

That said, the setting did deliver. I loved the wintery atmosphere, the way the author set the scene with the recent history and current events--political intrigue! Whispers of revolution from France!

But the actual story was way too obscene for me. Each character was strange and brutal in it's own unique way. The ending was a little enigmatic. The actual crime that set the action in motion was extremely gruesome, and through the course of the story we hear how it all went down in gory detail. But honestly, the other characters' trials and tribulations  were just as cringe-inducing as the crime itself. I don't know how representative this is of the genre, but if you like your fiction with a generous dose of depravity, this may be for you.

To be fair, I feel like it is pretty well written, and quite a page turner -- but if it hadn't been a free ARC through NetGalley (so I wanted to follow through and review) I probably would have set this one aside due to graphic content.

(Posted to my goodreads)
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Thanks to NetGalley and Simon and Schuster for a digital ARC of this book. The following is my honest review:

1793 Stockholm is a dark and dreary place to be. Turmoil is all around and there is no shortage of crime. Told in four parts, The Wolf and the Watchman seamlessly pulls together the individual stories of three people and the devastating results of what happens when people are forced into positions from which they cannot escape. 

Mickel Cardell, a former watchman, is called to a body of water to pull out human remains. He believes that there must be mistake. Surely, what he sees in the water cannot be a human form. The gruesome discovery he makes when he pulls the body to land shakes him to the core. He, along with Cecil Winge, a lawyer and consulting detective for the Stockholm police department, make it their mission to learn the true identity of the deceased and the person responsible for the gruesome murder. Winge, suffering from consumption, has limited time and a desparate need to make things right.

It took me a little while to get into this book. I felt like it was laden with details, some vital to the story and others not as much. If you like your stories to be very descriptive, you may really appreciate this book. Natt ohh Dag does a phenomenal job painting a picture of the time period the story occurs in, as well as the details of the various settings where parts of the narratives take place. 

The plot is gripping and pulled me in. I was quite curious as to why the person murdered was treated so cruelly and who was responsible. At first I was uncertain as to how the various parts of the book would tie together, but I must admit the author did a great job pulling the story into a cohesive tale and left no questions unanswered. 

As a warning, I must say that there are scenes that are quite gruesome. While I believe the violence was not gratuitous, certain parts were difficult to read and imagine. 

It's really hard to fit this book neatly into any specific genre. I would recommend it to any reader who enjoys nordic noir, psychological suspense, and even historical fiction. I look forward to reading future works by this author.
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I had a very difficult time getting into this book.  The writing wasn't especially compelling and the story couldn't keep my attention.  After the glowing reviews I read, I'm pretty disappointed that I didn't like it.
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I'll admit that at first I was uncertain about how the different parts of the book would come together with their disparate focal points/characters, but I'm glad I stuck it out because Niklas Natt och Dag has constructed an intricate, fascinating murder mystery revolving around a limbless corpse found dumped in a body of water. I know nothing of Swedish history, but there's enough context here to give me what I need to follow the story. I do know a bit about the history of surgery, so I could tell that he really did his homework to describe how a doctor might go about performing such butchery and what he might think about preventing infection.

Even though this novel revolves around characters who are forced to endure the weight of the world's injustice (illness, rape/framed for a crime she didn't commit, war injuries), there is still some light and levity to be found along the way. Don't expect a straight forward detective novel, but enjoy the twisted journey here.
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The Wolf And The Watchman is an historical thriller. It's the type of book I normally like, but this one is different. It's a bleak gruesome violent story. I skimmed through because I knew I couldn't read it. Read only if you like violence and grit. Thanks to NetGalley for an arc in exchange for an honest review.
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A historical crime novel set in Sweden in the same time period as the French Revolution.

This novel is nicely constructed, has interesting, engaging characters, and has such a sense of time and place, I was freezing just reading it.

I knew from the get go that I had finally stumbled onto a book of substance, I strongly urge you to read it also. Yes, its gruesome at times, but not exaggerated.

Thank you Netgalley and Simon & Schuster for the opportunity to read and enjoy this incredible novel in exchange for my honest opinion.
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I didn't finish this book. I couldn't. Let me explain. Atmospheric 18th century Stockholm. Historical thriller. The Alienist goes to Sweden. Everything I adore in a crime/mystery book. But the depravity is a little too much for me (says the person who loved Crow Girl). And I had to stop. There's no way I can un-read the description of the horrific murder/torture that Winge and Cardell -- an unlikely investigative team -- must solve. When I arrived at Part II, that's when my relationship with this book ended, because here we meet the victim in a happier time. And we know what happens to him. I couldn't bear it.

Niklas Natt och Dag's writing is a work of art: sweeping, descriptive, intricate and compelling. I share this passage as an example: "Cardell wanders past the shacks on the other side of the bridge. Here families live one on top of the other in lean-tos and huts that look ready to collapse. They have good cause to fear the coming season: once winter has filled all corners of the poorhouse to bursting with the shivering bodies of the destitute, the frozen corpses of the rest will be piled high next to the graveyard until the ground thaws out."

When I think of Stockholm, I see the cobblestone streets and ochre-colored buildings of Gamla Stan (the old town) are home to the 13th-century Storkyrkan Cathedral, the Kungliga Slottet Royal Palace and the Nobel Museum, which focuses on the Nobel Prize. Ferries and sightseeing boats shuttle passengers between the islands.

His Stockholm is more like Dante’s nine rings of hell.

Here's another: "In the falling dusk, Cardell has made his way to the opposite end of town, a godforsaken part of the Meadowland in the area around the Northern Tollgate. He follows the Rill, the foul-smelling waterway that runs in brown curves between the houses, north, with the steep Brunke’s Ridge on his left and with the shores of the Bog to the right. The water stinks to high heaven but it is still no match for the Larder. A certain measure of running water and a larger overall volume is better suited to bear the constant influx of latrine and household waste."

My heart sank when I got to Part II, I wasn’t two pages in when I realized we’re about to learn of the mutilated, tortured murdered man with the beautiful blond hair, I hoped I had the stomach for it. 

Unfortunately, I did not. This is a searing, soaring historical thriller for others who can take it. Me? I'll be switching to cozy mysteries for a while. Cats solving crimes are the new hot thing now according to Vulture:
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I love this book!  I was very surprised at how much I actually love this book.  It was such an interesting story and very well written.  The author pulled me into the story and I was emotionally involved with the characters.  This is the best book I have read in a long time.  I don't give many books 5 stars, but this book is defiantly a solid 5 stars.
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