Skip to main content

Beyond All Reasonable Doubt


Beyond All Reasonable Doubt

QUICKSAND, Malin Persson Giolito’s first novel to be translated into English, has become hugely successful. The book, which is about a school shooting in Sweden, has even been turned into a series for Netflix. It caught a lot of readers’ attention because of its thoughtful interrogation of motives and ethics, and because of Giolito’s ability to constantly shift her audience's expectations and assumptions.

BEYOND ALL REASONABLE DOUBT was published in its original Swedish in 2012 and has just been released in an English translation. Here, Giolito brings her legal experience to bear on the narrative, as her central character, Sophia Weber, is a lawyer who isn’t afraid to take on even the toughest and most controversial cases, sometimes even on a pro bono basis. But as the novel opens, she is facing her toughest decision to date: whether or not to take on as a client a man known in the popular media as Professor Death.

"[I]ts real strengths lie in its careful and thoughtful exploration of ethical issues and its interrogation of the limits of the law."

Doctor Stig Ahlin was convicted of brutally murdering 15-year-old Katrin more than a dozen years earlier. Ahlin, who was in his mid-30s at the time, admitted to having known Katrin, and even confessed that the two had had a sexual relationship (which, while unsavory, was nevertheless not illegal). But he’s always denied killing her.

When Sophia’s professor brings her the case files, he knows she’ll be compelled to read them. He also suspects (rightly) that she’ll identify inconsistencies and open questions, doubts that will inspire her to take on the case and petition for a retrial. He suggests that this case will make her career; for Sophia, though, it’s much more about questioning the integrity of circumstantial evidence and exposing faults in the prosecutorial pipeline.

Giolito’s novel alternates between present-day events (primarily from Sophia’s point of view, but also from the perspective of an imprisoned Ahlin) and descriptions of the 1998 murder and its aftermath. Throughout, Giolito presents complicated, ethically nebulous characters, prompting readers to question their own assumptions about legal process, justice and fair trials. Ahlin, Katrin and even Sophia are portrayed as deeply flawed individuals. Ahlin, in particular, regardless of whether or not he is a murderer, has done some highly unsavory things, and readers may ask themselves --- much as Sophia’s colleagues ask her and she periodically asks herself --- if he deserves a second chance.

Those who are looking for a thriller with a lot of action or nail-biting suspense might find BEYOND ALL REASONABLE DOUBT a bit slow-paced for their taste. But its real strengths lie in its careful and thoughtful exploration of ethical issues and its interrogation of the limits of the law.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on June 7, 2019

Beyond All Reasonable Doubt
written by Malin Persson Giolito, translated by Rachel Willson-Broyles

  • Publication Date: June 4, 2019
  • Genres: Fiction, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Other Press
  • ISBN-10: 1590519191
  • ISBN-13: 9781590519196