The Cat Did Not Die
ForeWord Review — Spring 2013 Five star review
Swedish writer Inger Frimansson is back with a new thriller, The Cat Did Not Die. After absorbing this psychological descent into madness you may want to rethink how private that summer cottage is. You may even hide your ax.
The Cat Did Not Die's opening chapters follow a developmentally stunted man who lives nearby the summer cottage of a young couple (Beth and Ulf). He does not understand that spying, breaking in, and stealing pillows from them are not appropriate activities—even if he does so for the sake of his missing cats. For his trouble he ends up dead.
The narrative picks up with Beth's voice after she administers the coup de grace via ax to the head. Is it murder? Is it self defense? It seems that Beth is not entirely unwarranted in her action. She felt she was defending herself and her home. Yet soon, stories of her past emerge that hint that little Beth may just be a natural-born killer, someone who was violent right from the start.
The ensuing coverup starts a downward spiral for the couple, who have already suffered a few bad years: A late-term miscarriage and possible infidelity cast shadows over their future. It seems that Ulf just doesn't like, let alone love, his wife anymore.
It's hard not to echo Ulf's feelings about Beth. She is an uneasy, self-conscious (possibly racist) creature—even on vacation. At the pool she can't stand the dutiful African servants. The offer of a mere towel "made her feel trapped even though she felt more restless by the minute … [He] would watch her and even come up to her and ask, with a slight bow, if there was anything she needed. This made her embarrassed. She would wrap the towel closer around herself and shake her head no."
Animals have something to say about Beth, too. A strange cat stalks Beth's house after the killing. Horses panic in her presence. An elephant goes berserk when she is near.
Frimansson is no pulp writer—and her writing is particularly graceful when she is telling the story through Beth's experience. With Beth as our unreliable guide, the prose is fluid. The story hums with evil portents if only because Beth is deliciously frail and doomed to get everything wrong.
Toward the close of the book, Frimansson switches to a third narrator. After the thrill ride in Beth's head, the prose seems less personal, less menacing. Gone is the voyeuristic thrill of watching someone who is both cracked and cracking. Yet, for the most part, the book offers what a good thriller should—unyielding tension. But this time, our villain is also our victim.
Spoiler alert: The cat doesn't die.
February 26, 2013
The Cat Did Not Die
Mystery Scene, Number 128, 2013
The Cat Did Not Die isn't really about a cat. Yes, there is a cat in the book, and no, the cat doesn't die. But it is actually a psychological suspense novel about a woman who commits a violent act and then spends the rest of the book in self-destructive denial. When Beth comes across a mentally challenged man hiding in an old shed, she mistakes his alarmed response for an attack and batters him to death with a nearby axe. When her boyfriend Ulf, a journalist, discovers the body, he is unwillingly drawn into a plot to cover up the death. Soon, their formerly strong relationship begins to deteriorate. Lie piles upon lie as the action moves from coastal Sweden to Tanzania, where Ulf and Beth's sister Juni, a photographer, are researching the Maasai tribe, with the disturbed Beth in tow. Things do not end well. The Nordic countries have a reputation for chilly noirs, and prize-winning Frimansson upholds that reputation with a vengeance here. Although Beth is a less-than-sympathetic character, the quality of Frimansson's writing is such that we are drawn into her tortured mind despite ourselves. But all is not doom and gloom in The Cat Did Not Die. As a foil to Beth's dark imaginings, the author gives us Kaarina, the simple, justice-seeking farm woman who loved the unnamed victim. Kaarina and the titular cat she cares for emerge as beams of light in an otherwise midnight-colored novel. Betty Webb
Beth and Ulf, a middle-aged couple, have troubles with their marriage. As they drive to their summer cabin, they hear on the radio that two dangerous criminals have escaped from jail. That evening, after they've had a great deal to drink, they notice that someone is lurking in their outhouse. Beth is struck out of her mind by panic and rushes toward the man, while grabbing an ax hanging from the wall. When the man raises his hands, she madly goes at him with the ax…After a sleepless night, they decide to go to the police, but as they're driving to the station, they see a newspaper headline declaring that the inmates have been caught. Completely panicked, Beth convinces Ulf to hide the corpse by burying it behind the outhouse, and with this decision, the two of them are drawn deeper into lies and tale-spinning which threaten their entire existence.
The novel was a summer series in Dagens Nyheter, the major Stockholm morning daily paper.
Translated by Laura A. Wideburg.
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