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Leona: The Die Is Cast


Leona: The Die Is Cast

Oh my, where did this come from? This would be LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST, the de facto Nordic noir installment that has seemingly dropped out of nowhere but is in fact the carefully and wonderfully crafted debut novel by Jenny Rogneby. Rogneby would be an interesting study even without this book, which is the literary equivalent of a two-by-four across the forebrain in a dark room. She was in a Swedish female pop vocal group named Cosmo4 (you can catch their videos on YouTube). After showbiz, she majored in criminology at Stockholm University and joined the Stockholm City Police Department as an investigator. That latter position informed and influenced this novel --- the first of a trilogy (at least) --- which is instantly and thoroughly unforgettable.

"...the literary equivalent of a two-by-four across the forebrain in a dark room.... Rogneby is an amazing talent, and Leona is a character who breaks all the rules."

Did I say unforgettable? I don’t think that I will ever get the first page out of my poor head. LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST begins with a bank robbery. This may not seem like a major deal as a propelling plot device, but in Rogneby’s talented hands it is a mesmerizing one, no less because the heist, totaling in the millions of dollars, is carried out by a seven-year-old girl. You will have to read the book to discover how this occurs, but you will do so --- and gladly --- particularly once the complex, confounding Leona Lindberg is introduced.

Leona is a member of Stockholm's Violent Crimes Division and volunteers for a bank robbery case, which is made all the more challenging because the unlikely bandit apparently vanished within moments of making off with the money. Something is off about this woman from the moment we meet her, but the reader doesn’t quite know the extent of how far off she truly is, even as Rogneby drops crumbs here and there throughout the story while painting a picture of her utilizing exquisite pacing. Leona is the distaff side of Harvey Keitel’s Bad Lieutenant character, although, in her way, much worse. She balances her investigation with a multitude of sins and vices, not to mention her husband and two children, who are more often than not caught in the quiet crossfire of her excesses.

The strings of firecrackers that Rogneby sets off in Leona’s wake are substituted with hand grenades in an explosive conclusion that, on the one hand, renders the book complete in itself even as it leads to a cliffhanger ending that, among other things, makes one wonder: How did we wind up cheering for her? Yet cheer we do.

If you have the feeling that everything you are picking up and reading is the same story with different clothes --- it can happen occasionally --- I suggest you give LEONA: THE DIE IS CAST a shot. Rogneby is an amazing talent, and Leona (with a tip of the fedora to the journeyman translating talents of Michael Katims) is a character who breaks all the rules. I can’t wait for the next installment.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on August 4, 2017

Leona: The Die Is Cast
by Jenny Rogneby