Review: The Bucket List is Scandinavian noir at its finest

The Bucket List. Photo by Sarabeth Pollock
The Bucket List. Photo by Sarabeth Pollock /

There’s nothing better than a gripping crime story for your summer beach reading list. Swedish writing duo Peter Mohlin and Peter Nyström deliver a Scandinavian noir tale that will have you burning the midnight oil, because you might think you know what’s happening in The Bucket List until you realize that you really had no idea.

The Bucket List is Mohlin and Nyström’s debut novel and is the first entry in their Agent John Adderley series. They combine their journalism and screenwriting expertise to weave a tale that’s so complex you almost need bread crumbs to find your way out. Thankfully the authors’ masterful plot keeps you engaged the entire way through.

This is the kind of book that grabs you from the very first page and keeps you firmly in its grip until the thrilling and unexpected conclusion. It’s dark and gritty, and so gripping that you can’t stop until the mystery is solved.

The Bucket List is a tour de force blend of mystery and intrigue

FBI agent John Adderley wakes up in a hospital after an undercover assignment goes sideways. He’s sharing a room with the man who shot him. While he recovers, he receives a letter from his mother in Sweden that a decade-old cold case is being reopened and his half brother is the prime suspect. He was injured in an undercover FBI operation and as such cannot return to his former life, allowing him to focus on his half brother’s case.

Mohlin and Nyström weave effortlessly between the present day (in this case, 2019) and 2009 Karstad, Sweden, when Emilie  Bjurwall goes missing. Emilie is the heiress to a clothing empire and she has everything she has ever needed, but she’s led a troubled life. The only clue to her disappearance is a photo of her “bucket list” tattoo with the check mark in the third box on the list carved directly into her skin.

The case has many dead ends, and after ten years Emilie remains missing. John wants to find answers. His personal connection to the case is motivation enough but it’s his fresh set of eyes that help push the case forward in ways that no one could have imagined.

The Bucket List is organized into four parts. The first act sets up the story, sliding back and forth between the past and present, and once the foundation is set the rest of the book launches into the hunt for the truth. Coming in at just under 400 pages, it’s a meaty story that doesn’t have any fat on it. Every moment matters, and every character has some bearing on the bigger story.

The characters are remarkably well-developed. Since this is the start of the series it’s no surprise that John’s story is established from the very beginning. The other characters enjoy smart, witty dialogue and the unmistakable sense that they’re all there to serve a purpose.

Next. The Box in the Woods is a summer sleuthing delight. dark

Like surgeons performing a delicate procedure, Mohlin and Nyström bring The Bucket List to life with unerring and methodical precision. (Don’t be surprised to see this book become a Netflix series!) This chilling cold case calls to John Adderley for personal and professional reasons and no matter how much pain it causes he needs to find the truth.

The Bucket List, from The Overlook Press, is available now.