Niklas Natt Och Dach (whose name translates to Niklas Night and Day in English) has written a gritty, intelligent first novel called The Wolf and the Watchman. Originally published as 1793 in its native Swedish, The Wolf and the Watchman tells the tale of a watchman roused from a hangover one morning by a couple of kids, telling him that there’s been a body found in the river. Reluctantly, watchman Mickel Cardell gets up from his slumber and goes to the lake to retrieve the body.
There’s one disturbing problem, though: the body is missing limbs and eyes.
Cecil Winger, a brilliant lawyer who is now a consultant for the Stockholm police, is also investigating the case of the mutilated man. He and Cardell must team up to figure out the chilling truth behind this criminal mystery. Winger, who is dying of consumption, is on a time limit. Cardell must quickly figure out who mutilated the body of the stranger before it’s too late.
In other parts of the novel, the reader leaves Cecil and Mickel behind to introduce two new characters: a young man by the name of Kristopher Blix, who goes to the capital seeking his fortune, and Anna Stina, a woman who ends up in a prison for her crimes. Together, these four characters lives’ interweave and intersect over time. All of them are in some way related to the mysterious body found in the lake.
Eventually, the reader comes to know the grisly truth behind the mutilated man’s body, which connects Anna Stina and Kristopher Blix to Winger and Cardell. It is not pretty by any means, but brutally fascinating. Kristopher’s time in the capital goes awry; Anna Stina must discover a way out of the prison she’s found herself in. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking for Mickel Cardell and Cecil Winger.
I love the grittiness that permeates this novel. I love how engaging it is; my fingers flew through the pages, and flew through my knitting as I listened on Audible. I have a song that’s not even a real song stuck in my head from the novel:
Three fathoms and three splashes and three decades, three decades and three thousand ells of wool a day, all good things are three.pg. 225, The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag
It took me a while to realize how and why Kristopher Blix and Anna Stina were involved in the body in the lake, but my initial confusion was worth it. To say it was rewarding isn’t quite the word, but it was worth the wait. It was worth the confusion.
Overall, this novel is compelling, fresh, and full of unique characters: an ex-soldier with PTSD and a wooden arm, a consumptive lawyer turned detective, a young man seeking his future in the capital, and a woman jailed because she refused to marry a man she doesn’t love.
If you like historical fiction, mysteries, and crime, this is a good place to start. You learn about Sweden, too, which is cool. I definitely recommend picking up a copy of Niklas Natt Och Dag’s debut novel.