Håkan Nesser

Although peripatetic Swedish author and teacher (he started in Uppsala before moving to Greenwich Village and then to London) Håkan Nesser has a fairly impressive bibliography his English language publishers are taking their time about getting his work translated. A quick glance at the listing below will demonstrate exactly what I mean. 

His first series, based in the fictitious northern European city of Maardam (the names seem to be mostly Dutch, though there seem to be Swedish, Polish and German elements as well) feature Van Veeteren, a detective who ends up owning an antique book shop. 

A second series that started with Människa utan hund (Human without Dog) are apparently obviously set in Sweden and feature Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti, a Swedish detective of Italian descent. 


  • Woman with Birthmark (2009), the fourth in the Van Veeteren series, which opens with the funeral of a woman where there only mourner is her twenty-nine year old daughter who regards her own life as over and launches a vendetta on those she considers responsible for her mother's sad life and lonely death. It’s obvious one of them is businessman Ryszard Malik, who receives a number of unsettling phone calls where a piece of music is played repetitively. When he’s shot (twice in the chest, then in the groin) it’s fairly obvious there’s a sexual motive involved. 

Van Veeteren starts the investigation, though there are no obvious clues or motives. Things become slightly clearer when a second man, Rickard Maasleitner, receives the same fate, an it soon becomes obvious the victims were both members of a National Service training group in 1965. The problem is that there were thirty-five members of the group, and when a third member dies the same way...

Knowing more or less what’s going on (you get a clear version of the killer’s point of view as she sets about her vendetta) it’s a question of whether she can claim a fourth victim before the police catch up with her. 

A good read, and I’ll be checking the library shelves for more.

  • The Inspector and Silence (2010), which finds Van Veeren contemplating retirement, planning a holiday in Crete and tempted by an offer of partnership in a local bookshop until he's called in for what's supposed to be a “two day vacation” in a holiday community on a lake.  The young police officer left in charge while his xhief goes on holiday has been told to contact Van Veeteren if he gets anything difficult. Predictably, he does, and the difficulty comes in the form of an anonymous phone call claiming a young girl has gone missing from a summer camp run by Pure Life, a religious sect. There are a dozen girls staying there, supervised by the sect's founder and his three female acolytes, who start off denying anyone is missing and then clam up when a body is found.

Equally predictably, the sect has a bad reputation in the locality and when a second body is discovered and cult founder Oscar Yellineck goes missing it's easy to jump to incorrect conclusions. A good read that sprinkles the clues through the narrative and provides a simple and quite plausible explanation to the mystery. 


© Ian Hughes 2012