Imagine that some old school British comic sitcom stars decided to take over Saturday Night Live and do the entire episode as a Law and Order spoof. The result I imagine would be something very much like The Department of Sensitive Crimes. I’ve read a few of Alexander McCall Smith’s Lady Detective series, and the tone and style are both similar yet different. The humor is really understated, and the plot and overall style are kind of generally meandering.
To quote the inside fly-leaf: “In the Swedish Criminal Justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult. In Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division. These are their stories.” This illustrates the premise, and the humor. Actually, this is slightly funnier than any of the humorous moments in the books, especially if you can do it in the voice-over announcer voice.
Ulf Varg is the lead detective, and along with Anna Bergesdotter, Carl Holgersson, and Erik Nykvist, he investigates crimes like someone getting stabbed in the back of the knee, a college student’s imaginary boyfriend’s disappearance that turns into a different case, and a possible werewolf disturbance at a resort-spa. Ulf’s name, which translates as Wolf Wolf, gets brought up repeatedly, he and Anna kinda like each other but she’s married and he’s not willing to go there, Carl doesn’t get much page time but apparently does all the paperwork and bureaucratic stuff that keeps everything going, and Erik doesn’t really like to work, preferring to dream about his retirement to be spent fishing. Ulf and Anna seem to spend a good bit of time in the coffee ship across the street from the office.
Much in the manner of Law and Order, crimes get solved but there’s almost always a catch like the culprit had a really good reason for their action, or nothing really criminal actually happened, or some other form of mild inconclusiveness. In contrast though, there is not a lot of detecting going on, mostly just a few interviews and internal musings.
Even the sides stories are a little blah, as in Ulf’s dog seems to get sick, gets put on an anti-depressant, and seems to improve. Why all this needs an entire chapter and what it has to do with anything in the main story is unclear, yet it’s part of the novel anyways. I’m all for saving the doggy, but even for the stereotypical Scandinavian ennui and existentialism, this just does not compute.
It’s not a bad read overall, but it’s just not all that entertaining or interesting either.