Hakan Nesser

Macmillan, £12.99 hbk

Released: 2nd July 2010

Reviewer: Maureen Carlyle


Maureen Carlyle is a reviewer, past judge of the Ellis Peters Award and is involved in the theatre and a keen archaeologist.

The Swedes are certainly going great guns at the moment. Henning Mankell is deservedly a star. Here we have another great Swedish detective, Inspector Van Veeteren. The translator is Laurie Thompson, and he has done an excellent job.

Van Veeteren is a completely different character from Wallander. He is nearing retirement age and is dreaming of taking a pleasant little job as an assistant in a local book shop. He is thinking about his forthcoming summer holiday and goes into a travel agent, where he waits behind an attractive woman whom he recognises from a previous case. She is booking a solo holiday in Crete. He knows the location and the hotel – all good. He leaves the shop and contacts another travel agent, with whom he books himself into the hotel at the same date.

That seems to be his summer sorted. He is an extremely laid-back character, his main interests being food, wine and classical music. But of course all his best-laid plans go completely awry when he gets involved in a case.

There is an extremist religious sect called The Pure Life who run a summer camp for young teenage girls in a forest by a local lake. The sect is headed by one Oscar Yellinek, who sees himself as God’s chosen, but in fact has an unsavoury past. He is assisted by three women who are completely in his thrall, and it is believed by the locals that he sleeps with all three of them. The daily routine for the young girls is Bible reading and prayers and a lot of nude bathing in the lake.

The book opens with one of the girls absconding in the middle of the night, and we know that she is murdered with horrible violence. The local police inspector, Kluuge, who is the laziest man alive and has never had to deal with anything more serious than a traffic offence, gets an anonymous phone call from a woman who says that one of the girls from the camp has gone missing. Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is drafted in to assist.

Van Veeteren is initially not very interested in the case, but he goes along to the camp and is completely cold-shouldered by all the members of the sect – Yellinek, his three assistants and the girls. They all insist that no-one has gone missing. Even when he splits them up and interviews them separately they refuse to answer his questions. He begins to think that despite his thorough dislike of the sect and everything to do with it there may be nothing in it. He nevertheless gets to know the locality, mainly through the local restaurants, and a Polish journalist who runs one of the local newspapers. Van Veeteren and the journalist become good friends.

There are only two houses in the vicinity of the Pure Life camp, occupied by two rather strange families, the Finghers and the Kuijpers. Everything changes when Inspector Kluuge receives a further anonymous call telling him that another of the girls has gone missing, and where to find the body. Van Veeteren knows the girl as he had interviewed her the previous day. She has been brutally raped and strangled.
When Van Veeteren returns to The Pure Life he discovers that Yellinek has disappeared but has forbidden all the other residents to answer any of the police’s questions.

Despite these obstacles, the remainder of the book eventually leads to the solving of the crimes, and moves at a faster pace once the second victim – the original missing girl – is discovered. Nesser writes with a lightness of touch that completely captivates the reader. Van Veeteren is an appealing character who although he appears emotionally detached from the events, has a strong moral sense. I was really sorry when I finished it.






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