The Department of Sensitive Crimes by Alexander McCall Smith

The Department of Sensitive Crimes

Alexander McCall Smith

No case is too unusual or complicated for the Sensitive Crimes Division to solve. With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can’t or won’t bother to handle.

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In the Swedish criminal justice system, certain cases are considered especially strange and difficult, in Malmö, the dedicated detectives who investigate these crimes are members of an elite squad known as the Sensitive Crimes Division.

These are their stories.


The first case: the small matter of a man stabbed in the back of the knee. Who would perpetrate such a crime and why? Next: a young woman's imaginary boyfriend goes missing. But how on earth do you search for someone who doesn't exist? And in the final investigation: eerie secrets that are revealed under a full moon may not seem so supernatural in the light of day. No case is too unusual, too complicated, or too, well insignificant for this squad to solve.

The team: Ulf “the Wolf” Varg, the top dog, thoughtful and diligent; Anna Bengsdotter, who's in love with Varg's car (and possibly Varg too); Carl Holgersson, who likes nothing more than filling out paperwork; and Erik Nykvist, who is deeply committed to fly fishing.

With the help of a rather verbose local police officer, this crack team gets to the bottom of cases other detectives can't or won't bother to handle. Equal parts hilarious and heartening, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a tour de farce from a true master.


Advance Galley Reviews

Another book that I got but couldn't read. The document won't open.

Ulf Varg, detective in Malmo’s Department of Sensitive Crimes, is no stranger to the darker side of life. That’s why he’s there—to investigate cases of imaginary boyfriends who suddenly go missing or of merchants who get stabbed in the back of the knee. Ulf and his fellow detectives make sense out of nonsense, pull the truth out from the lies, and find peace in the midst of chaos. And they go to the cafe to drink coffee. The first in Alexander McCall Smith’s new series, The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a gentle look at some of the stranger and more challenging crimes that are faced by these smart, humane, philosophical officers from Sweden. This mellow novel brings together a delightful cast of characters, from Ulf’s co-investigator Anna, who Ulf has secret feelings for; the verbose uniformed officer Blomquist, who often has the information Ulf needs to solve the crime, much to Ulf’s chagrin; and Ulf’s blind dog Martin, who suffers from depression despite being the first dog able to read lips. If you’re looking for a dark Scandinavian thriller, this is not the book for you. Ulf’s is a kinder, gentler Sweden, where he is conscientious of his colleagues’ feelings and walks a narrow line to try to keep from getting too . . . Mediterranean in his emotions. He works hard to remain respectful, keeping confidences and being thoughtful in his actions and words. I will admit I had a hard time getting started with this one, which made me sad because I love McCall’s work so much. But as the story went on, I found more and more joy in these pages. The Department of Sensitive Crimes was a slow burn for me, but it was more than worth the entire journey. If you’re needing a book to help you slow down after a chaotic week, then this is an ideal read. It’s sweet, soothing, and reminds you that is much to be celebrated in this crazy world. Galleys for The Department of Sensitive Crimes were provided by Penguin Random House through their First to Read program, with many thanks.

As a fan of Alexander McCall Smith I enjoyed this book as I have many of his others. The three crimes or stories were quirky and not at all the detective story you might expect. What a good read!

The department of sensitive crimes is an odd police department, very different from the usual police/detective novels. I guess the key words are "sensitive crimes", and how they are defined. The team of detectives are group of curious characters, and the cases are curious too. They solved more than one case in this book, but they leave the personal situations arising unsolved. It is not the usual crime novel and it is a different way to look at police work. I recommend the book.

I got bored. The story seemed meandering and pointless at times. There was an occasional nugget of philosophy (which I didn't mind) but not sure I liked the characters enough to read more about them. Nor did I think the mysteries were all that intriguing. Sadly, I was expecting more.

"We have to pretend about so much these days. We have to pretend to like things we don't like. We have to try so very hard to be non-judgmental." Ulf utters the above, (un)ironically, early into mystery #1. I disagree with him. This novel was the first of Alexander McCall Smith's books that I've ever read, and it wasn't really what I was expecting. Not only did I expect a wholly different setting, i.e., not Sweden, but also, I expected a much less leisurely, meandering style (just the first two paragraphs confused me so much, my mind got stuck in a loop trying to decipher it). And Smith goes on and on in this style, having the characters go lazily back and forth about semantics and word choice a la Laurel and Hardy -- almost like he's trying to boost the word count? There are numerous meaningless conversations of this sort -- I can't tell if Smith thinks he's being clever, the characters think they're being clever, or if this fussiness is his normal writing style. Just as an example, Dr. Svensson ponders how his patients leave his office and do productive things while he, in contrast, looks out his window. Looking out his window is so vital that he mentions this thought twice. The whole book is this way, with characters placidly editorializing about nirvana, tendons, tennis, cashmere, eczema, steroid cream, hydration (examples from just a few pages). I think the quirky mysteries could have worked without the quirky behavior of this cast of characters. The symptoms became more than the disease, if that makes any sense. For some reason, Smith felt the mysteries were too short or simple and tried to dress them up with unnecessary text that didn't add to his characters. His characters all seemed to possess the same convoluted way of dwelling on mundane things in their thoughts and then allowing such thoughts to be spoken, despite their irrelevance to solving the case.

A thoroughly charming light crime novel that's heavy on the moral philosophizing that one comes to expect of Alexander McCall Smith. It's a blend of his Botswana and Isabel Dalhousie style, where people try to decide what is morally right in a given situation rather than what is dictated by the letter of the law. The situations are highly improbable--as they are no doubt meant to be--but the characters are endearing. If AMS does write more in this series, I'm on board to read them.

The characters and story are well developed, but it is very slow pacing. It picks up as it goes and you will end up invested in Ulf and his team's story. Over all it's not my usual preference but it was an enjoyable read once the pace picked up- it just required and investment to finish and it paid off once I did!

This book reminds me of the Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö mystery books I used to read many years ago. So far I'm enjoying this slowly developing mystery novel. I hope the pace of the story picks up a bit soon. The main characters are quirky which I like a lot. At least, it's not another sadistic serial killer on the loose. I've really read enough of them already. I was curious to know what I would find online if I did a search for "knifed in the back of the knee crime". Mostly the results were about knee pain and how to treat it. Also some information about back pain. I guess knee knifing doesn't often happen or get reported in police reports or news media. I'm willing to read more books in this mystery series. Michael in Toronto, Canada

I have read other Alexander McCall Smith books,just could not get into this one. Disappointed because I enjoyed all of "The no.1 Ladies Detective Agency".

I enjoyed my time with Alexander McCall Smith's Department of Sensitive Crimes and look forward to another visit. This was a shorter book, under 250 pages, that consists of three solved cases. It has been a while since I have read a book by McCall Smith. I had previously enjoyed the Number One Ladies Detective series that takes place in Botswana, but I like to read series in order and have lost track of which one I last read. Despite taking place in Sweden, these stories have a similar feel. I absolutely was in the mood for and enjoyed the philosophical reflections of the main characters as they investigated their cases. For me, reading this felt like floating down a river; I liked the scenery and was able to just sit back and enjoy the gentle ride, smiling as I connected to the perspectives of the characters. The first half of the book moved faster for me; I was not as engaged with the second half. That said, I am curious enough about the characters that I will read the next in the series, especially if it is a similar length. Thanks to Penguin's First to Read program for access to an advance digital copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Alexander McCall Smith's latest book, the department of sensitive crimes puts you in the mind frame of some of his previous books, specifically The Number One Ladies Detective Agency. In this book, just as in his others, his wisdom, humor, and gentle life lessons shine through. I would not compare this to Scandinavian noir at all. It feels like more of a cozy mystery with a number of interesting cases that have been referred to the department of sensitive crimes. Overall, I I liked the book but felt somewhat irritated by the cop who was paired with Ulf. However, I really liked the synergy of Ulf, Anna, Carl, and Erik. The ending felt a bit empty for me. I would definitely read another book that focuses on the sensitive crimes department.

Philosophical and quirky. It's a tough combination to pull off, but Smith does an excellent job balancing the two. Ulf, the protagonist, is intelligent, occasionally witty, and puts on an unflappable air, though inside he has a rich mental life. He also has a lost love, some unrequited love, good friends, and a depressed dog. If there are sequels, I would like to get to know Anna better. I see a lot of potential to flesh out her character. Her friendship with Ulf is delightul. Definitely recommended and I hope there are more.

3.5 ?? Ulf Varg heads up a police department in Malmo that covers unusual & delicate crimes. Like who stabs a man at the knees. And what to do about a group of young women losing their minds over a made-up boyfriend. Not to mention reports of lycanthropy. This starts slow. But by the middle of the second case, you’ll be enamored of Ulf & his crew, & wondering when you can next spend time with them. My thanks to Penguin for an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.

I am a big fan of Alexander McCall Smith's writing. That said, I felt like this was the beginning of a series where you are getting to know the characters. I enjoyed the quirky characters and hope that they become more fleshed out in future books. I enjoyed how there were a couple of major crimes that were focused on in the book. I don't want to do any spoilers, but the stabbing one was funny and sad too. I would recommend this book. Not a lot of drama or excitement, but definitely a good read. Thank you to First to Read for providing me with an advance copy.

The premise of this novel intrigued me and I had not read anything from this author before. This was definitely not what I was expecting. Although this is a relatively short novella, I found the writing style difficult to get through. The narrative felt tedious as the characters continually drift away from the topic of conversation with irrelevant trivial exchanges. Not much thought or effort actually goes into solving any of the crimes and they really didn't feel sensitive as much as ridiculous. I realize that this was meant to be a satirical novel but It just wasn't a good fit for me.

Even after finishing the book, I am not sure what the point was. The characters are quirky, but not likeable. The crimes are weird, but not interesting. Nothing felt resolved, or like it even mattered. The whole story was meandering and I found myself alternating between feeling bored and feeling irritated by the characters. The characters constantly go off on random tangents in the middle of conversations, which if used sparingly is charming, but it got tiresome quickly as it was happening in every conversation. If a detective/crime book is not going to have much in the way of action or energy, then I would at least expect it has some interesting point of view or ideas, but nope, the characters seemed to think they were clever but just about everything they had to offer as far as observations and philosophy on life was trite. I'm not sure what the author was aiming for he, but I think he missed the mark entirely.

I thought this would be the introduction to a series with investigations a little on the strange side, and quirky characters. The cases indeed had a bit of oddity (a man knifed at the back of the knee, a boyfriend who may or may not exist…), but I didn’t enjoy the characters and their interactions much. I think the breaking point for me (well, not really a point, since it kept going on throughout the whole novel…) was the way their thoughts and conversations were meandering. In a way, they surely did mirror how our thoughts in general go from A to E through convoluted paths and associations of ideas; the problem is that this doesn’t translate very well into written form, unless perhaps you’re called James Joyce, and even then, I wouldn’t bet on it systematically. As a result, the characters took their sweet time getting to the fact, and to be honest, I found that their reflections about their own lives intruded all in the wrong places, such as between two paragraphs pertaining the investigation. The amount of useless dialogue lines kept breaking the flow of the story, and didn’t endear me to said characters. Another problem was the nature of some of those conversations, taking gratuitous jabs at people: reflections about the size of a policewoman’s buttocks (such a professional conversation, that), or calling a secondary character a midget, or being not even vaguely sexist—even coming from the female investigator, Anna, when she addresses the matter of the young woman in the second “crime”, and declares “Hormones come into it” (to which Varg agrees with a heartfelt “Don’t they always?”). I mean… No? Just no? Was this really necessary? What was it meant to achieve? All in all, I was disappointed here. I was expecting a sort of quirky, adorkable atmosphere, but it felt at best bland, and at worst somewhat rancid.

The department of sensitive crimes supposedly investigates crimes which are too unusual or difficult for the regular police force. Actually more time is spent on the relationships between the members of the squad than on solving the crimes, which are not really all that difficult. Scandinavian cozy replaces Scandinavian noir.

Fun book but not really my cup of tea

This new series strikes just the right balance of story, characters and philosophy. The sensitive crimes provide a quirky backdrop to develop the characters strengths, weaknesses and challenges. It took me a little while to get to know Ulf enough to emphasize and appreciate the authors use of this character. I now care to see what happens in the next installment. A charming and quick read that I thoroughly enjoyed, thanks!

This book was a bit of a pleasant surprise. It is a witty satire of crime fiction that was fresh and well-written. It’s a pretty light and quick read. There were multiple plot lines, but they didn’t seem overbearing and had the right balance. Ulf is a great protagonist, though I felt his story could be more elaborated at times. Maybe it will in future. I hope this will eventually become a series of books, because I would continue reading the books if it were. Overall, I recommend this book. Thanks to First to Read for letting me read this early in exchange for an honest review.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a genuinely amusing book. I was intrigued that Smith chose to write a mock Scandinavian crime novel, and the crimes that needed to be solved were considerably different than the norm. It was an easy, quirky read, and I'll definitely read the next one.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes is the first in a new series from the internationally bestselling Alexander McCall Smith. To be honest, I thought I was one of the few readers on the planet who had not read any of his many books. I remember trying the audio of the first in his No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series, but I couldn't get into it for whatever reason. But when this book was offered by the First To Read program, I read the description and thought it might be time to try again. The Swedish city of Malmö has a department devoted to the investigation of crimes that appear to be somewhat off-beat. Crimes that just don't fit into the usual robbery/drugs/murder mode are investigated by lead detective Ulf Varg, and his colleagues, Anna Bengsdotter, Carl Holgersson, and Erik Nykvist. His colleagues are all individuals; Anna a married woman who works closely with Ulf, Carl the workaholic, and Erik the department clerk obsessed with fishing. However, Anna and Ulf are the closest; and Ulf is in love with her. Being the kind and gentlemanly man he is, he knows that he can't act on that and break up a family. Then there is the uniformed policeman, Blomquist, whose dearest wish is to be part of the department. The three cases investigated in The Department of Sensitive Crimes are indeed off-beat; the stabbing of a merchant in the back of the knee with no witnesses, a missing imaginary boyfriend, and possible supernatural goings-on at a spa. Ulf has other problems too. His dog, Martin, is suffering from clinical depression. The Department of Sensitive Crimes is a charming if slightly odd book. I was captivated by the characters and the gentle philosophizing of Ulf. It doesn't fall into the Scandinavian "noir" category that we are so used to. I kept turning the pages late into the night just to see what might happen next and McCall Smith has a new fan.

I enjoyed "The Department of Sensitive Crimes" and it's look at police work in Sweden. It's not one of those fast-paced police thrillers, but is instead shows the detectives working through some unusual crimes and reflecting throughout on human nature. I think the author has given his characters a very Swedish attitude towards life, since they come across as calm and introspective and not given to dramatic emotions. The cases were quirky and offbeat. It was a relaxing book. I'd definitely read more by the author.

The odd cases mentioned in the description are what caught my attention and the novel is indeed a light, odd little novel. It's not fast-paced or suspenseful, instead it's more character based with Ulf investigating multiple cases that are handed to his department (and aren't as fully resolved as you'd expect from a novel focusing on only one crime). There's a lot of meandering dialogue and some situations that inspire a laugh or a smile. Nice if you're looking for something different.

The Department of Sensitive Crimes - Alexander McCall Smith She read Publication Date: April 16, 2019 The Department of Sensitive Crimes in Malmo, Sweden is comprised of three detectives and a clerk and deals with unusual transgressions requiring utmost discretion. The crimes range from a man stabbed in the back of the knee to possible missing persons to strange occurrences at a spa owned by the police commissioner’s cousin. The characters are quirky; the conversations often inane, but with profound life observations smattered here and there, as well as some laugh out loud moments. While no one character is quite as charming as Precious Ramotse of this author’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, there is potential. Fans of McCall Smith’s gentle prose and perceptive musings will welcome this latest endeavor.

Such an interesting read! The detectives in Sweden handle unusual and sensitive cases, and muse about life along the way. Alexander McCall Smith is one of my favorite authors, and this new book does not disappoint. In the midst of the detectives’ inquiries into sensitive cases, we find plenty to ponder about human behavior and life’s challenges. Written from a fresh perspective in Sweden, I am reminded of Isabel Dalhousie and her intellectual wanderings, which intrigue me immensely. The characters are warmly constructed with their peculiarities and foibles, and I am left wanting to read more about their cases and Iives. It is refreshing to read about mysteries without “blood and guts” murders, and I look forward to the next book in this series.

I enjoyed this offering by Alexander McCall Smith, focusing on the Sensitive Crimes Division in the Malmö police department. The story chronicles Varg and his coworkers as they go about their duties in the catchall of crimes department. The cases range from odd and strange to over the top such as, the missing imaginary boyfriend case. Said cases are relayed with a dry wit and slow meandering pace. The mundane is viewed with introspection and numerous segues off topic. A fun ride along with this group of detectives and their quirks and oddball antics. May not be everyone's cup of tea, but definitely recommend.

I've taken a break from A. McCall Smith for a few years. It felt a bit like I was reading the same book with the parts mixed up a bit. I only picked up this one because the cover was so lovely. But, I'm very glad I did. It felt like it had all the best of AMS (the good writting, the gentle attitude, the careful observations), but at the same, time it felt different. It was sort of the lagoom (the Swedish idea of just enough) in story form. Maybe, Wallander crossed with Nabakov? I don't know quite how to describe it. This mystery story takes place in Sweden, and I haven't been, but it felt authentic. All the Swedes I know talk about the middle path, or rightness, called lagoom. I get the feeling that AMS must have learned of lagoom and found a kindred feeling. His own literary output might be said to be much more than just enough, but the actual tone of the stories have such a light pacing. You turn the page because you like being in the world, not because you need to know the mystery. That's how this one is. I loved the characterizations. There is a great deal about dogs, and their essential being; this part is particularly fantastic. Overall, such a great read. Might be great for a holiday read if you want one that has some solid substance, and offers you a few moments of introspection.

 


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