Thursday, 19 April 2012

Review: Borkmann's Point, Hakan Nesser

Borkmann's Point (Inspector Van Veeteren #2)

Håkan Nesser

trans. Laurie Thompson

Pan, 2006 (1994)

"Borkmann's rule was hardly a rule; in fact, it was more of a comment, a landmark for tricky cases..."
"In every investigation, he maintained, there comes a point beyond which we don't really need any more information. When we reach that point, we already know enough to solve the case by means of nothing more than some decent thinking."
A seedy ex-con and a wealthy real-estate mogul are brutally murdered with an axe in the quiet coastal town of Kaalbringen. Chief Inspector van Veeteren, bored of his holiday nearby, is summoned to assist the local authorities. But there seems to be nothing to link the victims. Another body is discovered, again with no obvious connection, and the pressure mounts. The local police chief, just days away from retirement, is determined to wrap things up before he goes. Then there's a fourth murder, and a brilliant young female detective goes missing - perhaps she has reached Borkmann's Point before anyone else...
This was the first Inspector Van Veeteren book I have read, thanks to a Waterstones promotion. In Borkmann's Point, Van Veeteren, a chess-obsessed, music-loving DCI, has his holiday cut short by the murders commited by the Axeman in Kaalbringen, a tiny town on the Swedish coast. The book follows Van Veeteren and the young detective Beate Moerk as they try and solve the case before the media and the town turns on them.
I liked Van Veeteren as a character, and there is a dry humour to Nesser's writing. His relationship with the almost-retired chief of police, Bausen, was a nice counterbalance to the plodding necessities of the investigation. The subplot, involving the ambitious Moerk and her desire to solve the case before anyone else, was slightly less developed, and at times relied upon the tired syndrome of the female detective wondering if she'll end up sacrificing her chance at marriage and kids in exchange for her job.
As crime novels go, it was solid and entertaining. The brief glimpses of things from the Axeman's point of view definitely added to it, and I wished there had been slightly more of that and slightly less sitting around in the police station thinking things over. The last third of the book, after Moerk goes missing, is, understandably, the most intriguing part, and I was compelled to keep reading "just one more chapter" until I found out the culprit.
The twist I honestly didn't see coming, and it made me want to go back through the book, as good twists are wont to do, to see if I could have worked it out myself. As a result, the book ends on a high note. However, the in-between was a little underwhelming at times. The characterisation was deft but ultimately underdeveloped, and though the various different suspects and details that crop up are necessary to keep the mystery going, I felt at times like I was wading through pointless chapters to get to the good bits.
A final word on the cover of my copy: this trend of rebranding all the Scandinavian crime fiction so they all look virtually interchangeable seems a little cynical and unnecessary to me. And although there is a female detective in the book, given the fact that these are the "Van Veeteren mysteries", and as far as I'm aware the detective is always wearing clothes in the book, the image on the cover is rather odd and reasonably misleading...
Overall rating: 6.5/10 (an extra 0.5 for the twist)
Book source: Bought from Waterstones, Birmingham.

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