Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Leona - The Die is Cast by Jenny Rogneby

Paperback, 464 pages, Pub August 1st 2017 by Other Press (NY) (first published January 1st 2014) Orig Title: Leona Tärningen är kastad ISBN13: 9781590518823

This debut fiction has so many divergences from a standard police procedural that we are held in thrall to the last page, not believing our eyes. During the process of investigating a series of bank robberies, Investigator Leona Lindberg reveals certain unsavory truths about her police department and the people in it. Someone abused as a child apparently turned around as an adult and inflicted the same kind of suffering on another child. For money.

In fact, there is so much going on that is different in this novel that it begs to be discussed in a book group. One of the first things that captured my attention is that the author is a woman of color, born in Ethiopia, adopted and schooled in Sweden. She became a criminal investigator in Stockholm after graduation from Stockholm University, gleaning enough information to create the character Leona Lindberg and the circumstances under which Leona does her job.

It is not clear that Leona is a woman of color. It is never mentioned in this first novel. Leona is desirable—several men on the workforce make plays for her attention at different points—and her hair is described as “brown, curly and fluffy.” When I realized that Rogneby wrote this novel without pointing to race, I realized how unusual that would be in America.

The writer Chris Abani, born in Nigeria and now an American citizen, says America has a unique relationship with race: “Slavery in America is not really over.” Blacks from countries with black majorities naturally think of themselves differently than do black Americans. Jenny Rogneby, though growing up in a white majority country like Sweden, is also different than American blacks, who probably wouldn’t consider writing a book where race is not mentioned simply because it is so much a part of their daily calculations. Even now I am here having a big discussion about race when it is not even mentioned in this book. What does this say about us? What does it say about Jenny Rogneby?

Of course, Leona has more important things to worry about than skin color. She registers on the autism spectrum, and has a son with Crohn’s disease who requires expensive repeat surgeries to fix a long-term life-or-death ailment. Her daughter is of an age to require parental oversight, and her husband gets insufficient attention. Leona herself stays up many nights to gamble online. Meanwhile, she is heading up one of the most perplexing series of robberies in modern Swedish crime history. It’s a lot to juggle.

The novel itself at several points strains credulity. But Rogneby manages to pull us back from the brink, partly because she is coming at this from such a strange angle that we are dying to see how she is going to manage it. Knowing what we do about large bureaucracies where everyone is very busy, we sometimes can buy her explanations for how things are overlooked. If we remember we have information that the police department in general does not, in contrast to most novels of this sort, we could be convinced.

It is worth hanging on to the end because Rogneby manages to pull off something so devilishly clever and so disturbingly depraved that we really feel as though the term “crime novel” has just been invented.

The multi-talented Jenny Rogneby worked as a pop singer in Sweden before going to university for criminology and working for some years with Stockholm City Police Department. In that authors reveal a great deal about themselves in what they write, I will admit I looked for clues to Rogneby’s experiences in her work. According to her website, Rogneby
“took a year's leave from work, sold her apartment and all her furniture in Stockholm, moved abroad and wrote LEONA - The Die is Cast. She submitted her manuscript to Swedish publishers and 10 publishing houses were interested in publishing her debut. Now the book series is sold to 13 countries and the film rights are sold to Hollywood.”
You must admit, her life as been interesting so far. Might as well see where it goes from here.

A short interview is attached below:

You can buy this book here: Shop Indie Bookstores

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