Unwanted tackles some pretty heavy issues in its pages: there’s child abuse involving molestation and pornography; explicit violence directed at the children; and there’s also a grim reality running rampant throughout the novel. Kristina Ohlsson is not interested in playing games with her book where she hints at darker imagery without dropping the reader directly within it. Instead, she’s making sure that every moment in the book is draped with the first poignant moments of Unwanted, where a child is kidnapped from a crowded train; if there’s any room to breathe within this book about innocent children targeted by a disturbed figure known simply as “The Man”, it’s created by the warmth of the characters who manage to generate a sense of likability even with their flaws.
Ohlsson’s prose flows quickly, and the structure of Unwanted works well to keep the flow of the novel moving swiftly. It’s broken into parts and also days, and each day is separated by breaks in the plot; it creates easy passages that can be read quickly and put down, or if one wishes, they can simply read an entire day in a sitting.
That’s important for the novel, because the events in Unwanted happen quickly and over the course of the week, so it’s necessary for Ohlsson to maintain a steady storyline. She does this with serial kidnappings that continue to get messier and messier, with shocking twists head into gruesome territory I did not think Ohlsson would go. The kidnappings would appear to be less malevolent at first than they are, and although Ohlsson is dealing with the lives of children, she is not afraid to capture the emotional impact of losing one. It’s a gritty drama, and the investigators of Unwanted must deal with the consequences of their mistakes.
Fredrika, Alex, and Peder are the police investigators that Ohlsson chooses to focus on, and they’re explored with great interest. Fredrika suffers from her own self-confidence about her new job as a detective, and Unwanted explores themes of sexual discrimination, however vague or veiled they are, on the force. There’s also Peder’s melancholy existence, where he’s troubled by his wife’s postpartum depression and the morality of wanting to sleep with someone since his wife is neglecting him in that respect. And Alex is an aging investigator trying to get with the times, and he’s forced to recognize that he might not be the legend that he once was.
But there’s one character that’s mostly missing from the otherwise excellent character sheet: the killer himself. Of course, it’s difficult to explore the mindset of the killer without giving him away in too much detail for the reader, and since the focus is on the investigators, it’s reasonable that Ohlsson would stay away from his perspective. Still, it feels as though the killer is only vaguely described, and when he is it comes in the form of exposition after the fact from our protagonists. In some respects, the killer feels only slightly shaded even though he is the most important aspect of Unwanted, and that’s an area that needs some work.
However, Unwanted is one of the best new crime thrillers out, and from a fairly new author like Kristina Ohlsson, it creates a lot of buzz for the next novel in the series. These characters will be fun to come back to, and it feels as though Ohlsson has only scratched the surface of their conflicts. A return to the series is certainly warranted, and wanted.