The Return by Håkan Nesser

return nesserThe Return by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson
Pantheon Books, 2007
Originally published as Återkomsten in 1995
Source: library e-book

I am a huge Håkan Nesser fan, and I know I’m just catching up with the rest of the world since his books weren’t translated into English until 2006– and U.S. publication dates lag behind the U.K. ones.  Why? Each book feels a little different, which is quite a feat for a series.  It’s obvious that Nesser loves his characters because they are well-rounded people too.

The Return feels different than Mind’s Eye and Borkmann’s Point because of the set-up:  in The Return, Van Veeteren is in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery for the bulk of the investigation, a premise he borrowed from Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time.  (I keep coming across Tey’s name in the last week or so, which I’m taking as a sign that I should pick up one of her books soon). The murder victim is Leopold Verhaven, a disgraced middle distance runner who dies just after being released from prison after serving his second twelve-year murder sentence, those murders being nearly twenty years apart.  Nesser gets to play with time in this book because the investigation encompasses all three murders over a significant period of time.  The non-linear story is definitely different than the earlier books in the series.

The Return is also a reflective book because Van Veeteren is grappling with mortality as he faces cancer surgery.  The murder victim being his age also gets him thinking about his life. It’s not an entirely dour book about murder and mortality though:  Van Veeteren is still an eccentric investigator, and there are jokes sprinkled throughout the story.  I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the series in the coming months.

Other reviews of The Return can be found at Eurocrime and Mystery Mile.

I have also reviewed the two previous books in the Inspector Van Veeteren series:

Mind’s Eye
Borkmann’s Point

Borkmann’s Point by Håkan Nesser

Borkmann’s Point by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Vintage, 2006

Originally published as Borkmanns punkt, 2004 in Swedish

Finalist 2006 International Dagger

Inspector Van Veeteren series book 2

Source: library

It’s been a few months since I read the first Van Veeteren book, Mind’s Eye, but I can say that this book feels very different than the first book in the series.  Borkmann’s Point begins with Inspector Van Veeteren being yanked away from his vacation with his adult son to investigate two killings by someone the press dubbed the Axman.  It’s a graphic beginning to the story.  While the subject matter is gruesome, Nesser balances out the severity of the crimes with a lot of discussion of Van Veeteren and his team’s investigative process.  As a matter of fact, the title of the story refers to the point in a criminal investigation where the police have amassed enough facts to solve the crime without being distracted by too many facts.  It’s an interesting proposition, and one that applies to my experience reading the book.

Van Veeteren is a cerebral, intuitive investigator, as is his younger colleague Münster and Beate Moerk, a younger detective with the local police department heading the investigation.  It’s entertaining to see how their minds work.  My favorite line about the investigation is, “Justice has a certain preference for cops who lounge around and think, instead of working their butts off.”  It reflects the feel of the story:  yes, Van Veeteren is trying to solve this case in a short window of time before the retirement of the chief of the police department heading the investigation, but the pace of the work is not rushed.  Van Veeteren has plenty of time to play chess against Bausen and take discomforting walks along the coast.

What else can I say about this book? It’s a moody setting– the lonesome coastline in an unnamed Scandinavian country.  Otherwise I’m stuck writing about this book because what’s most interesting for me about the book is talking about the identity of the killer and the killer’s motive and how I feel about it as a reader.  I’ll restrict that discussion to the comments.

My review of the first book in the series, Mind’s Eye, appears here.

Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser

Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser, translated by Laurie Thompson

Pantheon Books

1993 Swedish Crime Writer’s Academy Prize for new authors

Originally published as Det grovmaskiga nätet

Source: library


Mind’s Eye introduces Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, a detective in the fictional city of Maarsdam in an unnamed European country.  He’s an older detective dreaming of retirement, the parent of adult children, one of whom is in prison, and separated from his wife.  This novel focuses on the murder of Eva Ringmar, a woman found drowned in her bathtub by her new husband, Janek Mitter, a high school teacher.  He suffers from amnesia, which complicates the investigation.  More murders take place in the course of this book, but they all revolve around who Eva was, a mystery that’s not uncovered until the end of the novel.

The pacing of the police procedural is good:  it’s quite a good set-up to begin with a murder, an accused suffering from amnesia, and his trial all in the opening section of the book.  Van Veeteren is the dogged type of inspector who generally is good at sensing who the murderer is 95% of the time, but one case out of 20 plagues him, and that is the case of Eva Ringmar.  The investigation, of course, involves lots of interviews, which slows the pace a bit, but that’s to be expected.

The biggest draw for me was the set up of the relationships among Van Veeteren and the detectives working with him for a brief period of time.  They aren’t faceless characters, especially Münster.  The actual mystery was not my favorite part of the book, but that isn’t usually the case for me.  I did feel a bit uneasy about how much woe befell the main murder victim, Eva Ringmar.  Nevertheless, I look forward to reading the rest of this series.

See other positive reviews:  Confessions of a Mystery Novelist, Euro Crime (Karen), Euro Crime (Maxine), and Reactions to Reading.

What I Read Over the Summer

I’m writing this post in list-form because I want to get into the habit of blogging again after letting it slide for quite awhile. I’ve been a bit unenthusiastic about what I’ve been reading lately, and, in fact, the last week I’ve been more hooked by the show Friday Night Lights than what I’m reading, which is usually what happens in the middle of winter. I welcome any glowing book recommendations!

  1. I haven’t reviewed much crime fiction lately because it’s either been too gruesome (The Wire in the Blood by Val McDermid) or too harrowing. I’ve read about 3 books in the last couple months where kids are the victims, and while I like Denise Mina, Hakan Nesser, and Margaret Millar generally, I also felt uneasy because Field of Blood, Inspector and the Silence, and Banshee were too much for me.
  2. I’m still having trouble finishing Framley Parsonage by Anthony Trollope after two tries this spring and summer because I get distracted by other books I can read in smaller chunks throughout my work week. This is where having assigned reading in a real life book club would come in handy: I’d feel external pressure to finish it!
  3. I’m still trying to get out of a bit of a reading funk, and my plan to read sample chapters of what’s been sitting on my Kindle for ages hasn’t inspired me yet.
  4. So after browsing my electronic shelves, I browsed at an actual small bookstore in Ann Arbor over the weekend, which led me to a little bit of reading inspiration. I’m looking forward to Jeffrey Toobin’s American Heiress about Patty Hearst. I don’t know much about the 1970s,  my family didn’t live in the US then so I didn’t learn a lot from them re: Hearst, and I grew up with someone whose Dad was in the FBI working on the Hearst case, all which have piqued my interest.
  5. The best book I read this summer was Heat by Bill Buford. I like narrative nonfiction that feels like it’s been researched a long time, and in this case, besides the research, Buford spent over a year working for Mario Batali. Working in a professional kitchen sounds miserable to me on many levels, but it made for an entertaining read.

Crime Fiction Pick of the Month- January 2013

I read four crime novels in January:

The Power of Three by Laura Lippman
Ratlines by Stuart Neville
The Return by Hakan Nesser
Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman

My favorite read of the month is, surprisingly, The Power of Three by Laura Lippman, a book I wasn’t madly in love with when I first finished it.  Lippman is so good at building a world and building characters, and I’ve found myself still thinking of the book in the last month.   I think I was initially disappointed with the book because I was disappointed with the characters who were responsible for the murders in the book.  I also really loved The Return by Hakan Nesser, but it’s not a surprising pick for me.  I tend to read lots of Swedish stuff.

Thanks to Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for hosting the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month Meme.

2013 Translation Challenge Wrap-Up

2013transchallenge-3Ellie at Curiosity Killed the Bookworm hosted the 2013 Translation Challenge, and I joined in order to refocus my reading from US crime fiction to more international novels. Seeing as, overall for the year, I read barely any American crime novels, I was able to meet the goal of 12 translations pretty easily. Nevertheless, I’m glad I joined the challenge to meet new bloggers, find new reading suggestions, and to refocus my reading for the year.

Here is the list of books I read:

  1. The Return by Håkan Nesser (Sweden)
  2. The Devil’s Star by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  3. Blind Goddess by Anne Holt (Norway)
  4. Room No. 10 by Åke Edwardson (Sweden)
  5. The Summer of Dead Toys by Antonio Hill (Spain)
  6. The Redeemer by Jo Nesbø (Norway)
  7. Blessed Are Those Who Thirst by Anne Holt (Norway)
  8. The Stranger by Camilla Läckberg (Sweden)
  9. Summer Death by Mons Kallentoft (Sweden)
  10. More Bitter Than Death by Camilla Grebe and Åsa Träff (Sweden)
  11. The Ghost Riders of Ordebec by Fred Vargas (France)
  12. Death of the Demon by Anne Holt (Norway)

As you can see, I was on a definite Scandinavian reading kick the first half of the year as I completed this challenge. Anne Holt is my favorite author of the bunch, and there were only a handful of books that were nowhere near my favorites (Edwardson, Läckberg, and Grebe and Träff). I consider that a good reading experience.

2012 Year in Review

Best wishes for the new year to all of you who read my blog, and thanks for reading during my first full year of book blogging!  Thanks for broadening my reading horizons with all your comments and posts.

2012 was a light reading year for me in terms of numbers, but I found a number of authors I really love.  I read 56 books, including 34 crime novels.  I read books by authors from 13 countries, led by the United States (27) and Sweden (6).  I read slightly more books by female authors (29) than male (25), and I read two books by author pairs.

The authors I’m happy to have discovered this year are Åsa Larsson and Håkan Nesser. The longest book I finished was Game of Thrones.  Finally, the book that has stayed with me the longest is Borkmann’s Point.

For 2013 my reading and blogging resolutions are to review even more translated crime fiction and read authors from more countries than this year.  I didn’t read any African or Central and South American authors in 2012, and only one Asian author, so those are my areas of focus.

April Reads

April was a bit of an odd reading month for me:  I started and gave up quite a few books because I couldn’t decide what I was in the mood to read (Yasmina Khadra was a bit too grim for me last month), and I actually finished a small number of books.  Three of the books I read were first books in a series by men, as well as one book by a woman in a series I’ve read from the beginning and a memoir.  While I’m looking forward to reading more in the VanVeeteren, Inspector Montalbano  and Brunetti series, my favorite read was Where Memories Lie  by Deborah Crombie.  I’m hoping I feel more enthusiastic about reading this month!

Thanks to Kerrie for hosting the Crime Fiction Pick of the Month meme.