After reading a few books that were difficult to get through for various reasons, my return to Swedish crime fiction was a relief, and I finished the book in 2 days, prompting my neglected child to yell dramatically “You can NOT read tomorrow, you have to play!”
The thing that has always irritated me about Nesser is his refusal to place his stories in the Swedish countryside we all know from his fellow writers, although we’ve obviously never been there. Instead, his protagonists’ and places’ names sound Dutch, and sometimes not even that. The places don’t exist, and it is never explained why. Although it really doesn’t matter when it comes to the stories, it irks me. Apart from that, I have zero complaints.
Inspector Van Veeteren (see??) is a likeable, slightly flawed character, just like his fictional colleagues Wallander, Adamsberg or Martin Beck. In this, his fifth outing, he ponders early retirement, without wallowing too much in his despair about the world and the depravity of the killers he has dealt with over the years. He doesn’t need to say much, or even ponder much, but the reader gets him. This is one of Nesser’s great strengths. Although the subject of this novel, the murder of two young girls in a super-mad-Christian holiday camp, is decidedly bleak, Nesser manages to convey Van Veeteren’s slightly detached mental wanderings in at times ironic fashion. Like the best literary police inspectors, VV doesn’t have to say much to get the job done.
Rather than just banking on the audience’s disgust for the murderer of the girls, the story opens up an interesting subject for discussion: Does the modern atheist’s disgust in the face of religious indoctrination of children warrant police bias, rougher methods of questioning, or even physical assault of members of a sect? Even, and most importantly for this novel, when there is no clear indication that the sect’s guru is involved at all? It makes for interesting reading, and you might catch yourself questioning your own preconceptions after you finish the book, which doesn’t usually happen with a crime novel. Van Veeteren is a great detective, and I do hope he doesn’t retire after all.