Woman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser

woman with birthmarkWoman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2009

Originally published as Kvinna med födelsemärke, 1996

It’s been over two years since I’ve read Nesser, and getting back to the Van Veeteren series was a delight. I know it sounds a bit off to call a book with multiple murders a delight, but I’ll try to explain. Parts of the story felt very familiar: first there’s an unhappy, lonely detective in an imaginary Scandinavian city, a team of police working a seemingly  impossible set of cases, and a strong social conscience, but the story gelled for me and is one of my favorite reads of the year.

Van Veeteren and his team investigate a series of murders of men killed the same way (shot in the chest and the groin), and the first half of the book is the search to find the link between the victims. The second half of the book is the chase, and it’s a truly sad ending for the victims and the perpetrator. I’m usually not fond of books with sections in the mind of the killer, but I didn’t mind it in this story. Nesser has such sympathy for the killer and the killer’s life that led her to her crimes: it was a very well-done story.

There’s a bit of an odd passage in the book that sounds a bit like the fact that I feel a bit ambivalent about enjoying this book about horrible crimes: Beck at one point muses that he could have been a criminal because he enjoys hunting the killer as much as the killer must enjoy hunting his/her prey. As he gets closer to catching the killer, he is usually horrified by their motives and wonders what kind of society he lives in that breeds such criminals.  While I liked the book for the chasing-down-the-murderer plot, I was also impressed with how sympathetic Nesser made the killer. It was a tragic story.

I bought my copy of the book, and I have the next three books on my shelves. I’m very much looking forward to them.



7 thoughts on “Woman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser

  1. It’s such a rich novel, isn’t it, Rebecca. As you say, it’s a very sad one, too. Still, it has a lot of depth and a solid plot. Glad you enjoyed it.

    • Borkmann’s Point is my favorite so far. I saw that later books in the series are finally being published in the US starting this fall so Nesser’s been on my mind.

  2. It’s been maybe 5 years since I last read this series… Best get back to it! Am having a Scandinavian crime Renaissance at the moment so you have inspired me further with this review.

  3. This was my introduction to Nesser’s writings and I was blown away by it, and also the writer’s sympathy for the perpetrator. So, I’ve read about four more since then.

    I must get back to his writing.

    • Glad you’re a fan too, Kathy! I think he has a lot of books that were published in the UK but not here quite yet, but I think that’s changing (Van Veeteren and other books). Borkmann’s Point is the one I remember most, so far.

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