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by Hċkan Nesser and Laurie Thompson, trans
Mantle, October 2011
256 pages
16.99 GBP
ISBN: 0230745725

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

Four retired friends celebrate winning the lottery. Hours later one is dead in his bed, stabbed twenty-seven times in a frenzied attack. With Chief Inspector Van Veeteren on sabbatical, the case must be solved by Inspector Münster.

The discovery of a severed head and the disappearance of another member of the lottery group complicate matters. Even when the police win a confession from a suspect, the case is far from solved. Münster turns to Van Veeteren for help in untangling a dark web of family secrets and lies.

Nesser's publishers are keen to let us know that he was setting the standard in Scandinavian crime fiction long before the Stieg Larsson phenomenon took off. His Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is hailed by Colin Dexter as a 'great European detective', so it's a shame there isn't more of him in this story. That said, the rest of the cast do a good job of keeping readers entertained and intrigued, especially the briefly-elevated Münster and his sexy colleague, Ewa Moreno.

With more humour than might be expected from this brand of crime, the story rattles along nicely. As well as some wry asides by the detective team, Nesser raises a smile by naming his bit characters after well-known crime authors, Kellerman and Bauer among them.

This tongue-in-cheek style helps to carry the story and makes a refreshing change from the downbeat mood of much Scandinavian crime. That said, suicide is mentioned more than once and there's not a lot to laugh about during set pieces such as the discovery of a dismembered corpse, in more bits than the police can quickly count.

As soon as Nesser reveals that the stabbed pensioner has three children, all of whom are estranged and one of whom is in a mental asylum, the spectre of abuse raises its familiar head. Nesser provides plenty of twists along the way, but it's depressing and disappointing to keep reading about this subject, when there is surely more compelling material yet to be explored.

Here's hoping Chief Inspector Van Veeteren gets his teeth into something more surprising if he returns in another book.

§ Sarah Hilary is an award-winning short story author, currently working on a debut crime novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Hilary, October 2011

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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