Tuesday, 28 April 2009

'Mind's Eye' by Håkan Nesser

I can't claim I'm new to Nesser's murder mystery world. I've been reading his unusual novels in Swedish for a couple of years and am an enthusiastic fan. At last he's being translated into English, at a rate of one book per year.

Mind's Eye is a well constructed story of a serial killer, who almost by accident becomes one. But the first scene is seemingly a domestic affair. After a drunken night, Eva Mitter's body is found in a pool of blood in the bathroom of a flat she shared with her new husband. He remembers only fragments of their night together but claims he could not have killed her.

The Police Chief Inspector, Van Veeteren, has his own worldly concerns. He's an old autocrat feared by his superiors as much as by his underlings, due to his undisputed talent for solving murders. But this case baffles him and makes him question his future in the force. Following the modern Swedish literary detective story tradition, Mind's Eye is more about the detective that it is about the murderer or even the victims. As in all Nesser's books the setting is an invented Northern European country, with bad weather and sombre buildings. Nesser's clipped, economical writing style suits the genre and the story. All the while we wonder what hides in the background, what we're not being told. He creates the story in our minds as much as on the page.

But the surprising twist in the end is less satisfying just because Nesser does not allow the reader any relevant insight into the mysterious Van Veeteren's mind. Even with a few chapters written from the murderer's point of view, the reader is none the wiser as to who he could possibly be, nor how the Chief Inspector came to suspect him. It's the norm to be led down the wrong track, but in order to satisfy the fans of the genre, the writer needs to give at least a hint of the solution away. If the great detective can work anything out, the reader will lose interest. What's the fun in reading about a magic trick? It only works if you can watch it.

Perhaps Nesser's later books, with the more approachable detective Barbarotti, would have suited the English speaking market better? Nevertheless, I'm looking forward to reading the English version of the next book in the Van Veeteren series, Woman with Birthmark.

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