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by Hakan Nesser
Doubleday, June 2006
336 pages
ISBN: 0385662815

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, the central figure in Hakan Nesser's lengthy Scandinavian series, is dispatched to investigate a series of axe murders in the otherwise quiet North Sea town of Kaalbringen. There Van Veeteren encounters a police force that seems, with one exception, singularly uninterested in what would appear, to this reader at least, to be a fairly notable set of crimes.

The local police chief, Bausen, is anticipating his upcoming retirement and is evidently more interested in chess and his collection of wine than in energetically pursuing a local maniac and his second, one Kropke, is a handcuff or two shy of a complete complement of police equipment. Only Beate Moerk, the junior member of the force, seems eager to go after the killer, once, of course, she has supplied coffee and pastries to the office.

Van Veeteren rapidly succumbs to the general lethargy, spending as much time playing chess and drinking wine with Bausen as he does taking care of business. A third corpse does get his attention and the rather dozy Kaalbringen detective squad is reinforced by Van Veeteren's own sidekick; thus it is only a matter of a few weeks until the case is solved.

The novel is set in a kind of generic landscape, comprised, according to Nesser, of elements of the Scandinavian countries, Germany, and Poland. One presumes that Nesser has chosen this placeless scene as appropriate to his character and his methods -- though Van Veeteren certainly utilizes conventional forensic approaches, he does not believe in pursuing this route too far.

There comes a point (Borkmann's point, named for a mentor) beyond which it is unwise to gather further information. Instead, the detective must look within himself until the solution emerges. His method results in his subordinates sitting about waiting for a certain expression to appear on his face, at which point they know that the end of the case is at hand. It also provides ample space for philosophical reflection of the 'what is the nature of guilt?' variety.

BORKMANN'S POINT represents Nesser's first appearance in English and is the second in a series that now stretches to at least nine novels. Presumably as a result of the success of other Scandinavian crime novelists (Henning Mankell in particular), publishers appear to be looking through Norse backlists for likely candidates for translation. This is certainly a welcome development, even if, in this case, the novel chosen is over a decade old and showing its age.

Readers who prefer a leisurely, character-driven approach to the crime novel will find much to admire in BORKMANN'S POINT and will be willing to accept its departures from strict realism. All readers will be happy with Laurie Thompson's fluid translation. I look forward to reading a later entry in the series to see how Van Veeteren develops.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, June 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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