Earlier this year I read The Alienist, yes I know I’m about a million years late to the party for The Alienist. In short, I loved The Alienist and I found that it was a completely different and unique story and prose.
Though I had to take it in small doses, I still loved it and thought that it will forever stand out as an excellent historic thriller not only for the time when it was written, but that it has a lasting appeal. So when this book came across my desk for review and was marketed to fans of The Alienist, I couldn’t say no.
That’s a tall order to fill for me, so I was eager to see if this book was going to live up to the hype.
It is 1793. Four years after the storming of the Bastille in France and more than a year after the death of King Gustav III of Sweden, paranoia and whispered conspiracies are Stockholm’s daily bread. A promise of violence crackles in the air as ordinary citizens feel increasingly vulnerable to the whims of those in power.
When Mickel Cardell, a crippled ex-solider and former night watchman, finds a mutilated body floating in the city’s malodorous lake, he feels compelled to give the unidentifiable man a proper burial. For Cecil Winge, a brilliant lawyer turned consulting detective to the Stockholm police, a body with no arms, legs, or eyes is a formidable puzzle and one last chance to set things right before he loses his battle to consumption. Together, Winge and Cardell scour Stockholm to discover the body’s identity, encountering the sordid underbelly of the city’s elite. Meanwhile, Kristofer Blix—the handsome son of a farmer—leaves rural life for the alluring charms of the capital and ambitions of becoming a doctor. His letters to his sister chronicle his wild good times and terrible misfortunes, which lead him down a treacherous path.
In another corner of the city, a young woman—Anna-Stina—is consigned to the workhouse after she upsets her parish priest. Her unlikely escape plan takes on new urgency when a sadistic guard marks her as his next victim.
Over the course of the novel, these extraordinary characters cross paths and collide in shocking and unforgettable ways. Niklas Natt och Dag paints a deliciously dark portrait of late 18th century Stockholm, and the frightful yet fascinating reality lurking behind the powdered and painted veneer of the era (summary from Goodreads).
Sometimes when people compare newer books to older classics, I hesitate because it’s often not the case. However, in this case, this book was worthy of the comparison to The Alienist. I can see why this book was likened to that cult classic.
It was a graphic, gruesome, and terrifying read. Wolf and the Watchman had a very gritty and dark feel to it and I was surprised that I actually found it more gruesome than The Alienist (how is that possible you ask? Read the books and find out!). I don’t mind gore or exceptionally dark/gritty plots and mysteries, however I can only read it in a small dosing and in this case, it slowed this novel down for me.
I don’t know if this is going to be a book that will appeal to a wide audience. This book is going to appeal to fans of The Alienist to be sure, and others who love very graphic murder novels, but I think some readers might be put off with the gore aspect.
The author clearly loves this time period. He wrote with such authority on the living conditions and the time period that one could easily feel like they were there. I thought it added a lot fo the authenticity of the story but again I think some readers might find the descriptions uncomfortable or off-putting. I know nothing about Sweden during this time, but the author made it come alive, unflattering though the images may be, it came alive nevertheless.
So where does that leave me with this book? I found it a little slow and overwritten at some points, but overall I thought it was good. I could only read it in small doses so it did read slower for me. At the end I went with 3 stars. It was good and worthy of The Alienist comparison, but I just couldn’t get past the level of despair and gore.