The Scandal by Fredrik Backman

In a small, nearly-forgotten Swedish town in the forest, hockey is the reason the sun rises. After years of financial despair, of closed businesses and schools, and kids who want nothing more than to leave, here is a ray of hope that things will turn around, and that hope is pinned on one thing. The junior hockey team, close to winning the championship, closer still to securing a new hockey academy, promises to put Beartown back on the map and bring people back, instead of them solely leaving. And the team has pinned all its hopes on Kevin Erdahl: hockey prodigy, 17-year-old invincible hero to an entire town.

But Kevin got where he was thanks to Benji, the teammate and best friend who is both terrible and the best person in town. And neither of them will win unless the team is rounded out by someone fast, like Amat, from the kids’ team, who practises every morning while his mother Fatima cleans the rink. And Fatima needs to keep her job cleaning the offices of the coaches. But the coaches, David and Sune, need to come to an agreement about Amat. And the general manager, former hockey professional Peter, needs to figure out what to do about Sune, his longtime mentor. Meanwhile Peter and his wife, Kira, just want to hold onto their children: Leo and 15-year-old Maya, who is beginning to think she is in love with Kevin. But Amat is in love with Maya, and then there is the rest of the town, too, waiting to have their story told.

Fredrik ‘Man Called Ove’ Backman has endless skill when it comes to the layering of characters: of their motivations, of making you know for sure what you think of someone… until 10 pages later, when you become absolutely convinced you were wrong. He gives you a town, its people, its passion, and makes you believe in it, makes you feel the roar of BEARTOWN through the pages: the excitement, the desperation, and then, the downfall. The way a whole town sees a threat to the hockey team – their hockey team – and their moral compass spins off-centre. The way a crime can be committed but it doesn’t matter, because it’s not as important as hockey. Unless someone stands up for it.

This is an almost-comforting, slow-burn of a Scandinavian story, with Neil Smith’s translation transporting Backman’s voice so clearly, it seems unfathomable it was originally written in anything but English. There are all the ingredients – ice and snow and blood and guns and tension – but what is really dangerous is the mentality of a small town that thinks that it has everything to lose, without realising what it is that you need to hold on to.


Fiona Hardy blogs about Crime Fiction at readingkills.com and puts together the Dead Write column for the Readings Monthly newsletter.