Sunday, March 11, 2007

Scandinavian Mysteries: Håkan Nesser, BORKMANN'S POINT

[Cemetery by the ocean, photo by Jef Maion]

I appreciate the threads that lead from book to book. Reading Henning Mankell led me to Karin Fossum (brutal noir with a quirky sense of mischief, believe it or not; but more of that, at another time), and then, figuring maybe the whole Scandinavian "thing" was worth exploring, I discovered the Swedish mystery author Håkan Nesser. Truth: I lost a lot of "work time" because I couldn't put down his Inspector Van Veeteren mystery, BORKMANN'S POINT.

Van Veeteren has the issues any inspector might after 30 years on the force: a bit of drinking, a heavy dose of depression, a persistent sluggishness that doesn't light up into eagerness any more. Confronted with the first ax murder of his career, he glumly pours a beer and realizes he has forgotten to buy food.

But Van Veeteren is also willing to ask the simple necessary questions that lead more deeply into the nature of the crime: After hearing the details of when and where Heinz Eggers was killed, he tilts the team toward its investigation by ruminating aloud, "What kind of a man was Eggers?" And, caught in a multi-jurisdiction tangle, he continues to quietly ask questions -- rather than spit out instructions. His careful movement and human warmth reward him with a partnership with the locals.

Yet as we say here, "No good deed goes unrewarded," and the response can sometimes be a painful reward indeed. By the time three murders pile up and a promising young female detective on the team goes missing, Van Veeteren's personal despair is in harmony with the cold seacoast, which depresses the criminal as well as the hunters.

Today's New York Times Book Review includes an alert from veteran crime reviewer Marilyn Stasio for the next Van Veeteren mystery, THE RETURN. Stasio offers the phrase "introspective viewpoint" to describe Nesser's language and narrative, and points to the book's probing of the presence of evil. That's enough to move this new arrival to the top of my bedside stack for next week's reading.

1 comment:

Peter said...

Nice to read this post. I've developed a Scandinavian crime-fiction jones the past couple of months: Nesser, Karin Fossum, Jo Nesbo and Helene Tursten. I've posted some comments on my blog at if you're interested.

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