Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Woman With Birthmark, by Hakan Nesser

Hakan Nesser is another one of my all-time favorite writers of Scandinavian crime fiction. Woman With Birthmark is #4 in this series featuring Inspector Van Veeteren, a veteran detective in Maardam, whose location remains a mystery in itself. These books you can read as stand-alone novels, but there's always a plus to reading a series in order. 

A solitary mourner at a funeral is at the heart of a baffling series of crimes. A young woman made a death-bed promise to her mother and has cleared the way to begin her plan of revenge. Her first victim is a businessman who has recently been receiving some very odd phone calls. There is no voice, just a song that plays over and over again.  Shortly after a little fender-bender, his wife goes out one night leaving him home alone, and comes back to find him shot to death. Enter the police and Inspector Van Veeteren, who after their investigation, come up with very little to make a case, never mind an arrest. When another murder occurs in the same fashion, the members of the Inspector's team know that they must find some sort of a connection between the two dead men. Not only are they worried about a possible serial killer, but the press doesn't understand why the police are not doing their job and makes no bones about publishing how they feel. But the two victims lived very different lives, so the team has to begin the tedious and difficult task of linking each victim's pasts together, not only to identify the killer and the why, but to possibly warn anyone else connected with these two men.  

It's not a mystery, per se; the reader knows the who (sort of) from the very start.  What drives the killer is what slowly unravels throughout the story, teased out a little at a time. As in all of his Van Veeteren books, Nesser's writing, his plotting genius and his characterizations all speak for themselves in this story. He doesn't pad the writing with a lot of great detail and gets right to the crime and the search for a solution.  Van Veeteren doesn't seem to suffer from the angst that many other Scandinavian detectives are full of and he has this very dry wit and sarcastic sense of humor.  I've seen this book reviewed as being too slow with little punch, but trust me -- this is far from the case. If you want bang-bang shoot 'em up, look elsewhere. This one is much more subdued and cerebral.

I have followed this author's works in order of translation and have NEVER been disappointed. I can definitely recommend this book to readers of Scandinavian crime fiction, and for those who want quality and intelligence in their crime.

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