The Living and the Dead in Winsford – Hakan Nesser

This is a piece of Swedish crime fiction that takes place in Exmoor, as the central character (Maria Holinek) offers her first person perspective on her life and situation. The former TV celebrity, is spending the winter in a hidey-hole on Exmoor, with the initial ambition – so she tells us – to outlive Castor, her dog. She pretends to be a Swedish author, seeking inspiration for her next novel. We soon find out that’s not why she is there…

The author has clearly spent some time on Exmoor, and does a great job of recreating its stark, oppressive, and wild beauty. The creeping shadow of dark – or could that be terror – lies await in every scene. And Maria Holinek is well drawn, and engrossing, though there were a couple of times in the plot when I wasn’t sure her actions were in keeping with the parts of her personality I had been exposed to. That, however, may be down to my own shortcomings in taking on board the available hints.

There is an interesting back story about what Maria’s husband did in his youth – unraveled as she accesses some of his papers and computer files. But, as interesting as it was, it did not fit in so smoothly.

Indeed, at the end, my overall impression was that this well written and interesting novel was a little rough round the ages. I read that sentence and it seems strange, especially given the fine prose that Nesser has composed. But, whether it’s due to the editorial approach, or the translation, or the plot structure, indisputably there is something that did not work for me. It was the least rewarding of Nesser’s books that I have read.

A strange one.