13 October 2009

Review: WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK, Hakan Nesser

An Inspector Van Veeteren mystery.
First published in Sweden 1996
Pirst published in English 2009 by Pantheon books.
Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson.
This edition PanMacmillan, 2009, ISBN 978-0-230-73697-9, 327 pages

A pre-Christmas funeral, a solitary mourner, a dead woman whose whole life had been littered with defeats and messy failures, a death bed promise to exact revenge. Just over three weeks later the murders begin.
When the first victim's wife comes home from the theatre near midnight she finds her husband dead just inside the door, shot twice in the chest, twice under the belt.

There are few clues for the police to work on. None of the neighbours noticed anything, there seems to have been no motive, the killer simply shot Malik when he opened the front door, then closed the door and walked away.

Solving this case, amid a rising death toll, takes Inspector Van Veeteren and his team the best part of two months. The tension rises as the reader identifies the next victims, and the race is on to see who gets to them first: the police or the killer.

Although this is the 4th of the Van Veeteren series, it is the first I have read. Van Veeteren is an interesting character, insisting on methodical techniques among his colleagues and subordinates, but more inclined to intuitive leaps himself. He insists in the end that i's are dotted and t's are crossed. This quotation sums up the sort of job he does: ".. we must continue playing our roles to the very end."

The series take place in Maardam, a fictitious city in a made-up country that could be anywhere in northern Europe. Nesser's website says "Van Veeteren is a philosophical detective with a unique ability to draw lines between dots that are far apart and nearly invisible. He firmly believes that he is able to solve any murder case. He is somewhat enigmatic and at times difficult to deal with. Vaguely gruff, temperamental, a little eccentric, but overall very warm, and funny, and someone it’s easy to identify with."

I found WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK a relatively easy but satisfying read, and I'll certainly be looking for another.

My rating: 4.5

But read them in order if you can - I just have the hunch that will pay dividends.
The books have been translated out of order but try to locate them in the order in which they were written:
  1. MIND'S EYE (trans. 2008), published 1993
  2. BORKMANN'S POINT (trans. 2006) - won the 'best novel' award from the Swedish Crime Writers' Academy in 1994.
  3. THE RETURN (trans 2007)
  4. WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK (trans 2009), published 1996.
Hakan Nesser (Håkan in Swedish, born February 21, 1950) is a Swedish author and teacher who has written a number of successful novels, mostly crime fiction. He has won Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times, and his novel Carambole won the Glass Key award in 2000. His books have been translated from Swedish into 9 languages. Hakan Nesser has published 20 books in Swedish. Four of them have so far been translated to English. The Van Veeteren series actually consists of 10 books, so let's hope the translations keep happening.

Sites to check:

5 comments:

Uriah Robinson said...

This series is good, there are six more still to be translated along with his other Gunnar Barbarotti series. After Hakan Nesser's talk at Crime Fest I charged over to Tiina Nunnally and Steven Murray and asked them to offer their services as translators. At only one a year I will be nearly 80 before they are all translated.

Bernadette in Australia said...

Another of those Scandinavian authors I have on my 'must read' list.

Congratulations on your 200 excellent reviews.

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Dorte H said...

Fine review.

I think Håkan Nesser is a great writer, and Van Veeteren is one of those quiet protagonists you learn to love over the years. At least that is my experience.

justareadingfool said...

Ugh. You read a series out of order. I never could do that. Of course, it will take me forever to get some of these books from interlibrary loan. Still waiting for Mankell. Sigh.

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