Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Review: The Inspector and Silence, Hakan Nesser

The Inspector and Silence (Inspector Van Veeteren #5)

Håkan Nesser

Pan, 2011 (1997)

In the heart of summer, the country swelters in a fug of heat. In the beautiful forested lake-town of Sorbinowo, Sergeant Merwin Kluuge's tranquil existence is shattered when he receives a phone-call from an anonymous woman. She tells him that a girl has gone missing from the summer camp of the mysterious The Pure Life, a religious sect buried deep in the woods. Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is recruited to help solve the mystery. But Van Veeteren's investigations at The Pure Life go nowhere fast. The strange priest-like figure who leads the sect -Oscar Yellineck- refuses even to admit anyone is missing. 

Things soon take a sinister turn, however, when a young girl's body is discovered in the woods, raped and strangled; and Yellineck himself disappears. Yet even in the face of these new horrors, the remaining members of the sect refuse to co-operate with Van Veeteren, remaining largely silent. As the body count rises, a media frenzy descends upon the town and the pressure to find the monster behind the murders weighs heavily on the investigative team. Finally Van Veeteren realises that to solve this disturbing case, faced with silence and with few clues to follow, he has only his intuition to rely on...

Inspector Van Veeteren is thinking about retirement, but before he can tender his resignation and take up work in an antique bookshop, he has an investigation to head up. Van Veeteren is two weeks from a Greek island holiday, and he's desperately hoping the case will be solved by then. Unfortunately, nothing about this case seems particularly straightforward. A religious sect in the forest, a dead teenage girl, a so-called prophet who seems to have an unhealthy interest in the young girls in his case, and a wall of silence that thwarts the police at every turn.

This was my second Van Veeteren book, and my feelings were similar: pretty good, but nothing astounding. Van Veeteren comments on more than one occasion that it would be great if something exciting happened, or a breakthrough occurred out of nowhere, but that would be too much like the movies. Nesser's point is one of realism: a real police investigation is less than glamorous, often plodding, and in this case rests on the mundane details and careful thinking of VV, who is often torn between trusting his instincts and trying to figure out what his instincts are based on. VV is a good cop character, but the book was a little slow in places and chugged along at quite a sedate pace for most of it. I wanted to know what had happened, but the journey wasn't always that thrilling.

The religious sect aspect was quite interesting, although we only really got to see it through the eyes of VV, who tried to balance rumours with the sparse amounts of information he could get out of its remaining members. There were also a LOT of secondary characters, most of them police officers, and all the names started to merge together - I haven't read the whole series, but it didn't seem like there was enough room for any of them to develop a character.

A reasonable mystery, but after two Nesser books I'm left thinking there are better Scandinavian crime novelists out there - time to go back to Mankell, maybe.

Overall rating: 5.5/10

Book source: Borrowed from the library.

This counts towards my 2013 Translation Challenge.

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