I was lucky enough to win a copy of Woman with Birthmark by Håkan Nesser from the host of the Scandinavian Reading Challenge and was just about to read it as book 3 for the challenge when I read this review of The Mind’s Eye which is the first book in Nesser’s series. I decided instead I’d take advantage of my tardiness in finding this author by reading the series in the order written rather than the order they’ve been translated into English.
Schoolteacher Janek Mitter wakes up with a hell of a hangover one morning and discovers the body of his wife in the bathtub. While it’s clear she has been murdered the question that neither police nor Mitter can answer is whether or not he was the one who killed her. Despite this, or perhaps because of it, Mitter is tried, convicted and confined to an asylum for the mentally ill but the case is not yet finished and events cause the police to investigate further.
By reputation Scandinavians are cold and dour but, if their crime fiction is anything to go by, this is as untrue a stereotype as any other because this book really is very funny. Most of the humour comes with the dialogue between Inspector Van Veeteren and his police colleagues though Nesser even finds the funny in Mitter’s dreadful situation. Translator Laurie Thompson has once again done a great job of creating a very readable book which relies quite heavily on verbal jousting for its lighter moments.
Van Veeteren is a terrifically well-rounded character who gets depressed by the weather, plays badminton grudgingly and is, nineteen times out of twenty, very sure of his own ability to judge a person’s guilt or innocence by little more than the tilt of their head. His droll observations and quirks provide much of the humour in the book but he’s also intelligent and caring in a ‘blokey’ kind of way and I look forward to reading more of his adventures.
The book felt a little awkward at the outset with its court scenes at the beginning followed by a police investigation but turning the procedural upside down in this way worked well in the end. The uncovering of Mitter’s wife’s past is really done quite cleverly and offered a good deal of credible tension towards the climax of the book. I shall definitely be looking for book two in this series sooner rather than later.
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My rating 4/5
Translator Laurie Thompson; Publisher Pantheon Books [this translation 2008, originally 1993]; ISBN 9780330492782; Length 280 pages
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