Three by Hakan Nesser

Introduction

This post is evidence of the beauty and the curse that is the Kindle: I bought one book by this author, and just had to read some more. And the Kindle makes it so damn easy!

(On reflection, considering how easy it is to buy electronic books – especially important in a country where English is not the first language – it’s remarkable my ‘to be read’ electronic bundle is so small. That, I suppose, is one success I have had at the daunting challenge of self restraint.)

Here are the three books I have recently finished reading, all by Hakan Nesser.

The Mind’s Eye

Setting: Maardam. The city is fictional, and the book doesn’t tie itself down more than that. The names of the characters have a Netherlandish flavor, however.

Story: Janek Mitter wakes up after a wild night of indulgence, and a gaping hole in his memory; just what did happen last night? This unfortunate state of affairs leaves him at somewhat of a disadvantage when he discovers his wife, dead, in the bathroom; there’s nobody else to blame. Enter the mercurial Inspector Van Veeteren, who investigates the crime even after the verdict is pronounced.

Good Stuff: Van Veeteren and Janek Mitter are hugely interesting characters. There’s a lot of thoughtful content, here. The whodunnit aspect is done reasonably well, but the mystery is less important than the quality of the writing, the tenderness of the observations and the humanity of the whole book. And the baddie, though making only a short appearance, is interesting as well. Top marks for the translation.

Not So Good Stuff: Some of Van Veeteren’s ruminations are fanciful and wasteful. (Some would say they add to the character; I think he needed a better editor.)

Score: 7/10

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Borkmann’s Point

Setting: Kaalbringen. (Wherever that might be.)

Story: Inspector Van Veeteren is on holiday, just down the road from the town where the chief of police needs a hand with a murder. Off he jolly well goes, careful not to tread on toes while working his way to the killer’s identity.

Good Stuff: Once again, characterization to the fore; the Inspector and his accomplices in this tale are well served by the author. The plot is better than the previous book, and the whodunnit aspect is on a higher plane, too. Thoughtful, intelligent writing drives the reader on in this great page turner.

Not So Good Stuff: Very little. Perhaps there are times when Veetern’s character seems too laid back, but these are few and far between.

Score: 8/10

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The Return

Setting: Kaustin. A small village, somewhere in Europe.

Story: A torso is discovered, wrapped in a carpet, hidden in a forest. Who is it, and how did it get there? Inspector Veeteren would like to be on the job, but he is interrupted by a need to go into hospital for serious surgery. So his colleagues get on with the work, and he rejoins them – from his hospital bed – after the surgery.

Good Stuff: Nesser turns the lighting down for this book, with something darker and more troublesome. He deftly builds up the tension and the mystery, and equally skilfully reveals layer after layer. Although Veeteren is still the main man, Nesser continues to develop the characters of his fellow policemen, and also the victim. It has to be said that the whole house of cards which forms the plot, falls apart without the strange character and behaviour of the victim. If you don’t believe that aspect, the book will not work for you. I had my doubts, but as the book continued, these lessened.

More Good Stuff:┬áThis is a sad story, told with loving, gentle care – interrupted by the odd caustic comment – finished off by an ending which packs a real surprise.

Not So Good Stuff: The character of the deceased stretches your suspension of disbelief; in other words, it’s a bit fantastic. It would have been better were that character to have been more normal, though I confess I have no idea how to achieve that. (However, the story and the plot easily overcome any shortcomings there.)

Score: 8/10

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