The Sword of Justice

Lief G. W. Persson, Translated by Neil Smith

The following is an exclusive excerpt from The Sword of Justice, by Swedish crime writer Lief G. W. Persson.  A professor at the Swedish National Police Board, Persson is considered the country’s foremost expert on crime. In the following passage, a bored detective lands an exciting murder case and experiences the best day of his life.


The best day of Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström’s life.

It was Monday 3 June, but even though it was a Monday and he had been woken in the middle of the night, Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström would always think of it as the best day of his life. His work mobile started to ring at exactly five o’clock in the morning, and because the person who was calling refused to give up he didn’t exactly have many options.

‘Yeees,’ Bäckström answered.

‘I’ve got a murder for you, Bäckström,’ the duty officer with Solna Police said.

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‘At this time of day,’ Bäckström said. ‘So it’s either the king or the prime minister?’

‘Even better than that, actually.’ His colleague was barely able to hide his delight.

‘I’m listening.’

‘Thomas Eriksson,’ the duty officer said.

‘The lawyer,’ Bäckström said, having difficulty concealing his surprise. It can’t be true, he thinks. It’s far too good to be true.

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‘The very same. Considering all your past dealings, I wanted to be the first to pass on the good news. It was actually Niemi at Forensics who called and said I should wake you. So, sincere congratulations, Bäckström. Congratulations from all of us here at the station. You got the last laugh in the end.’

‘He’s quite sure it’s murder? And that it’s Eriksson?’

‘No question, Niemi’s one hundred percent certain. Our poor victim looks pretty terrible, apparently, but it’s still him.’

‘I’ll try to find some way of dealing with my grief,’ Bäckström said.


This is the best day of my life, he thought as he ended the short conversation. He was also wide awake, his head clear as crystal, and on a day like today you had to make sure you made the most of every moment. Not miss a single second.

The first thing he did was put his dressing-gown on and go off to the toilet to ease the pressure. That was a routine he had picked up early in life and had been careful to maintain. Easing the pressure before he went to bed and as soon as he got up, regardless of whether or not it was necessary, and in marked contrast to what his prostate-tormented male colleagues seemed to devote most of their waking hours to.

A superb high-pressure jet, Bäckström thought contentedly as he stood there with the super-salami in the firm grip of his right hand, and felt the water-level sink in his well-proportioned nether regions. High time to restore a bit of balance, he thought, concluding with a couple of sturdy tugs on the salami to squeeze out the last drops that had gathered down there during the course of an entirely dreamless night.

Then he had gone straight to the kitchen to prepare a serious breakfast. A proper stack of extra-thick slices of Danish bacon, four fried eggs, freshly squeezed orange juice and a large cup of strong coffee with warm milk. A murder investigation wasn’t the sort of thing you embarked upon on an empty stomach, and carrots and oat-bran were almost certainly one contributing factor to why his malnourished and cretinous colleagues fucked up with such depressing regularity.

A murder investigation wasn’t the sort of thing you embarked upon on an empty stomach.

After that he had gone, happy and sated, into the bathroom, and stood in the shower, where he carefully soaped himself in sections as the warm water coursed over his pleasantly rounded and harmoniously constructed frame. Then he dried himself thoroughly before shaving with the assistance of a proper, old-fashioned razor and generous quantities of shaving-foam. Finally he had brushed his teeth with his electric toothbrush and, just to be on the safe side, gargled with some refreshing mouthwash.

Eventually, with aftershave, deodorant and other pleasant smells carefully applied to all the strategic parts of his temple of a body, he had dressed with great care. A yellow linen suit, blue linen shirt, black, handmade Italian shoes, and a colourful silk handkerchief tucked into his breast pocket as a final fond greeting to his murder victim. On a day like this it was important not to be sloppy about details, which is why—in honour of the momentous occasion—he had swapped his usual Rolex for the one in white gold that he had been given as a Christmas present by a grateful acquaintance whom he had been able to help out of a minor inconvenience.

\In front of the hall mirror he had conducted one final check: the gold note-clip, with a suitable amount of cash, the little crocodile-skin wallet containing all his cards, both of these in his left trouser pocket; his key-ring and mobile in the right pocket; his black notebook with the pen clipped to the spine in his left inside pocket; and his best friend, little Sigge, tucked securely in the ankle holster on the inside of his left leg.

Bäckström nodded with approval at the finished result. All that remained was the most important thing. A suitable dose of malt whisky from the crystal carafe on the hall table. Two throat-sweets in his mouth the moment the delightful aftertaste had subsided, and another handful in the side pocket of his jacket, just in case.

When he stepped out into the street the sun was shining in a cloudless sky, and even though it was only the beginning of June, the temperature had to be at least twenty degrees already. The first proper summer day, and just what you had the right to expect on a day like that.

The duty officer in Solna had sent a patrol car containing two young officers, skinny, spotty creatures, but the one who was driving had at least picked up the basics when it came to the authority’s management practices. He had both held the door open and moved his seat forward so that Bäckström could sit in the back seat without having to sit where suspects usually sat, or crease his neatly-pressed trousers.

‘Good morning, boss,’ the driver said, with a polite nod. ‘Not a bad day.’

‘Yes, looks like it’s going to be a real scorcher,’ his partner agreed. ‘A pleasure to meet you, by the way, Superintendent.’

Ålstensgatan 127,’ Bäckström said with a curt nod. To fend off any further observations he demonstratively took out his black notebook and made his first note on the case. ‘Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström leaves his residence on Kungsholmen 0700 to visit the crime-scene,’ Bäckström wrote, but the message evidently didn’t get through, because the youngsters started up again before the car had even pulled out onto Fridhemsgatan.

‘Odd business, this. The duty officer said that it looks like our murder victim is that lawyer, Thomas Eriksson.’

The driver nodded before carrying on.

‘That must be pretty unusual, someone murdering a lawyer, I mean.’

‘Yes, it hardly ever happens,’ his colleague agreed.

‘No, sadly,’ Bäckström said. ‘Sadly it happens all too infrequently.’ Two more fuckwits, he thought. Where do they all come from? Why don’t we ever run out of them? Why do they all have to join the police?

Two more fuckwits, he thought. Where do they all come from? Why don’t we ever run out of them? Why do they all have to join the police?

‘Do you think he could have been mixed up in something dodgy, boss? He was a lawyer, after all, so there’s probably a risk of that sort of thing, if I can put it like that?’

The silly sod had turned round now as well. He was speaking directly to Bäckström.

‘That’s exactly what I was planning to think about,’ Bäckström said wearily. ‘While you gentlemen drive me to the crime-scene in Ålstensgatan. In complete silence.’

At last, he thought. Ten minutes later they stopped outside a large, bright white, modernist brick villa from the fifties, with its own mooring, boathouse and jetty straight onto Lake Mälaren. It must have cost its owner more than an ordinary cop would earn in a lifetime, before tax.

Not a bad crime-scene. Whatever the sod was doing here at this time of day, Bäckström thought.

Otherwise things looked the way they usually did. The blue and white tape of the cordon surrounding both the property itself and a good portion of road on either side of the house. Two patrol cars and a mobile coordination unit, and at least three cars from Crime, far too many unoccupied officers just standing around with the others who had already gathered there. A few journalists with accompanying photographers, and at least one cameraman from one of the television channels, a dozen or so nosey neighbours, considerably better dressed than they usually were, and a striking number of them had brought along one or more dogs, of varying sizes.

But the expression in their eyes was the same. A underlying hint of fear, but mostly anticipation and the hope that was nurtured by the suspicion that if the worst had happened, at least it hadn’t happened to them. Compared to a whole life, what do all these days matter, apart from one? Bäckström thought. A whole life containing the single day that ended up being the best of your life.

Then he had got out of the car, nodded to his spotty-faced driver and his equally spotty colleague, and contented himself with merely shaking his head at the vultures from the media, as he set off towards the front door of the house that had, until just a few hours ago, been his latest murder victim’s home. Not the first walk of this sort that he had made in his life, and certainly not the last, but this time it was a welcome duty and, if he had been alone, he would have tap-danced up the steps to the victim’s house.



The week before the best day was an entirely ordinary week.

For good and bad.

Monday 27 May, a week before the Monday that was to be the best of his life, had been like Mondays usually were, possibly even slightly worse than an ordinary Monday, and it had begun in a way that challenged human comprehension even for a man as insightful and noble as Evert Bäckström.

In a purely literal sense, it involved two insane cases that for unfathomable reasons had ended up on his desk. The first concerned a maltreated rabbit that had been taken into care by the county council. The second involved a smart gentleman with connections to the royal court, who, according to an anonymous witness, had been assaulted with a sale catalogue from the renowned auction house of Sotheby’s in London. As if this weren’t bad enough in itself, the crime was also supposed to have taken place in the carpark at Drottningholm Palace, just a couple of hundred metres from the room in which His Majesty the King of Sweden, Carl XVI Gustaf, ordinarily enjoyed his nightly slumber.


Several years ago Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström worked in the Western District of the Stockholm Police as boss of the department that was responsible for the investigation of serious violent crimes. It wasn’t a bad patch, and if it had been in the USA, where ordinary people get a say in things, Bäckström would obviously have been a shoo-in as their elected sheriff. Three hundred and fifty-five square kilometres of land and water between the large inland Lake Mälaren to the west and the Baltic Sea to the east. Between the old tollgates of central Stockholm to the south and Norra Järva, Jakobsberg and the outer archipelago to the north.

He used to think of it as his very own Bäckström County, with almost three hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. At the top of the pile were His Majesty the King and his family, residents of the Royal Palaces at Drottningholm and Haga. Besides them there were a dozen billionaires and several hundred who were each good for a few million. At the other end there were several tens of thousands who didn’t have enough to feed themselves, who were forced to live on benefits or beg and commit crime to get from one day to the next. And then there were all the ordinary people, of course. All the people who minded their own business, took care of themselves and didn’t make a fuss about the lives they were living. At least they rarely did anything that risked landing on Bäckström’s desk in the large police station in Solna.

But unfortunately not everyone who lived there was made that way. During the course of each year, almost sixty thousand crimes were reported in the district. The majority of them, admittedly, were simple cases of theft, criminal damage and drugs offences, but there were also a few thousand violent crimes. If you looked at criminality in the Western District as a whole, it stretched right across the social spectrum. From a handful of gangsters in pin-striped suits who committed financial crimes worth hundreds of millions, to the many thousands who stole everything from steak and sausage to make-up, beer and headache pills from the big supermarkets in the district’s shopping centres.

A new week, morning meeting, high time for Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström to wield the sword of justice once again.

And in almost every instance, they didn’t involve Bäckström at all. Bäckström worked with serious violent crimes. He had done that for the whole of his life as a police officer, and he intended to continue doing that until that part of his life came to an end. Murders, assaults, rapes and armed robberies. Plus all the other wonders hidden in amongst them, in the form of pyromaniacs and paedophiles, menacing behaviour, hooligans and various assorted lunatics. Even the occasional flasher or peeping tom could be imagined to nurture more corporeal ambitions. There were also more than enough of such cases. Thousands of reports each year, all ending up in the department for serious violent crimes. And it was all these cases that gave content and meaning to his life as a police officer, and if he was to be able to accomplish anything on that score, it was all a matter of distinguishing between the things that mattered and those that didn’t. On the Monday before the Monday that would be the best day of his life, he had, unfortunately, been less than successful in this regard.

In Bäckström’s department for violent crimes, the week always started with a morning meeting where they summarized the human misery that had taken place during the preceding week, bolstered themselves in advance of what was to come that week, and chewed over a few old cases that had sat and mouldered for too long simply to be carried off to the archive and forgotten about.

To assist him, Bäckström had twenty or so co-workers, one of whom was both silent and fully functional, and half a dozen who at least did as he told them. The rest were pretty much as could be expected, and if it hadn’t been for Bäckström’s firm hand and strong leadership, not least his ability to distinguish between the things that mattered and those that didn’t, then obviously the bad guys would have got the upper hand from day one.

A new week, morning meeting, high time for Detective Superintendent Evert Bäckström to wield the sword of justice once again. He was happy to leave all that fiddling with the scales of justice to the large number of do-gooders and paper-shufflers higher up the police hierarchy.



Excerpted from The Sword of Justice by Lief Persson, published by Vintage Crime/Black Lizard Press. Copyright © 2013 by Lief Persson, translation copyright © 2016 by Neil Smith.

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