1794 is a deliciously dark journey through the underbelly of 18th century Stockholm. It’s the second novel in Natt och Dag’s Cardell series; but, the novel stands on its own. I didn’t read 1793: The Wolf and the Watchman where the characters, Jean Mickel Cardell and Anna Stina Knapp first appear, but that did not preclude my enjoyment of 1794.
The novel begins with Eric Three Roses, the second and less-loved son of a minor nobleman. Eric’s journey to Sweden’s only tropical colony, Saint Barthélemy and the mysterious, scuzzy individuals he meets there are the mystery that seeds the rest of the novel. What happens to Eric is tragic. Cardell is called upon to discover the crime and the criminal — and bring them to justice. He seeks out Cecil Winge, encounters Anna Knapp again, and slithers through the shadowy and crime-infested underworld of Stockholm, sorting through those who are struggling to survive and those who prey on others to survive.
This is a crime novel, one which reveals a seedy and complex weaving of lives, fortunes, and terrible fates that not only delivers the tension of a mystery but also, and perhaps more appealing to me personally, the texture of 18th century European urban society. Classes collide, fates are intertwined, and motives are never simple. Relationships function on transaction, but the currency people must pay can run the range from gold to love, from silver to power. Murderers murder for the sake of a love of violence. Fathers overlook the transgressions of their daughters for the sake of a peaceful existence. Brothers blind themselves to the follies of their siblings. Sanity and madness are two sides of the same coin.
1794 is not a story with happy endings, neat narratives wrapped up by the end; this is a reflection of life under a harsh light. The mystery lies in how we survive it.