I recommend this book to all inquiring readers
By Derryll White
“When we finally find what we have been looking for in the darkness, we nearly always discover that it was exactly that.
-C.G. Reinhart, Swedish police officer
Håkan Nesser is another member of the Scandinavian invasion. Originally written in Swedish in 1993, this novel won the Swedish Crime Writer’s Academy Prize for new authors. He has also won the association’s best novel award three times. ‘Mind’s Eye’ was finally translated by Laurie Thompson in 2008.
This is the first of the Inspector Van Veeteren mysteries. It follows in the Scandinavian tradition of developed sardonic characters with a rather dark sense to them. ‘Oprah Magazine’ has described Van Veeteren as “the most appealingly unlovable hero since TV’s crabby physician House.” I did like House’s quirks and foibles.
The story opens immediately into a dark, amnesiac scene with the main character, who is a history and philosophy teacher, transferred to prison. Then Nesser starts with the quirky, lecherous yet believable behaviour that scrambles the prissy defense lawyer’s mind. It also lets the reader understand that Nesser is consciously playing with the reader’s mind as well. I like that.
Håkan Nesser has a different and interesting way of writing. The dialogue is sometimes abstract, seemingly unconnected. The chapter breaks are sometimes abrupt, shifting the story. Inspector Van Veeteren often seems posed on the edge of all-consuming depression. An unidentified and unexplained character, Reinhart, inserts himself into the story flow with pithy, reflective comments. But still the story moves forward and becomes more and more interesting. And always, questions both utilitarian and philosophical continue to be asked.
In the end this is an engaging novel. Nesser avoids the strengths of other Scandinavian authors – the blunt social comments and rages against a despotic government. Instead he embraces a more philosophical path, always asking questions and seeking answers. I enjoyed following his leads, asking the big ‘why’ with regard to some of the fundamentals of existence as we know it. And all in a mystery novel. It is a mystery, and I recommend the book to all inquiring readers.
CHIEF INSPECTOR – He sat with his bulky body crouched over the cassette recorder, looking like a threatening and malicious trough of low pressure. His face was crisscrossed by small blue veins, many of them burst, and his expression was reminiscent of a petrified bloodhound. The only thing that moved was the toothpick, which wandered slowly from one side of his mouth to the other. He could talk without moving his lips, read without moving his eyes, yawn without opening his mouth. He was much more of a mummy than a person made up of flesh and blood.
But beyond doubt a very efficient police officer.
CONUNDRUM – You’re not wearing frilly knickers. Not today!
I’ll admit everything if somebody gives me a cigarette.
In court. That was brilliant.
And then, when all was said and done, if Mitter hadn’t killed his wife, who had?
He recalled Reinhart once saying that no two professions were more similar than those of teacher and actor.
If he was wrong, the winners would have to be police officers and mud wrestlers, Van Veeteren thought as he elbowed his way back to his seat in the public gallery.
WHY? – The air was full of sea.
Sea and wind and salt. If he wanted, he could allow it to remind him of his childhood summers, but there was no reason why he should.
The house was small and white. Wedged in a confusion of shacks, sheds, fences, and net racks. He wondered if there could be any room for integrity in a place like this. People lived in each other’s kitchens, and every bedroom must be surrounded by listening ears.
The higher the sky, the lower the people, he thought as he rang the doorbell. Why did there have to be people in every kind of landscape?
WOMEN – “What about her relations with men?”
“I don’t think she had any. Not before Mitter, that is.”
“I’m pretty sure.”
“She never mentioned anybody?”
“But you did talk about men?”
“Sometimes. There are more interesting topics, you know.”
RELATIONSHIPS – There were men and there were men. And sometimes you made a mistake. But there was always a way out, that was the point. If you’d demeaned yourself, or landed up with a real shit, all you needed to do was get out of the mess. Tell him to go to hell, and start all over again.
ANALYSIS – “A novel, a film, or a play Munster – they are nothing but stuffed life. Life that has been captured and stuffed like a taxidermist stuffs a dead animal. They are created so that we can reasonably easily examine it. Clamber out of current reality and look at it from a distance.”
– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them. When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.