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Friday, 21 February 2014

Novel set in Northern Europe (and certainly up there with the Nordic Noirs)

The Strangler’s Honeymoon by Håkan Nesser set in Northern Europe

The Strangler’s Honeymoon starts and finishes on a sunny Greek Island – but the bulk of the book (and there are 600+ pages of it…) is pure Scandinavian Noir, set in the fictitious North European city of Maardam. The Strangler’s Honeymoon was first published in Swedish in 2001, but the English translation (and an absolutely excellent one at that…) did not appear until last year. Indeed I think I am correct in saying that Nesser has written eleven Van Veeteren mysteries, but that only six of them have to date been translated. 

That would seem a bit of an error to me. Nesser is every bit as accomplished a writer as either a Stieg Larsen or a Jo Nesbø. I am sure he deserves, and will get, their fame in due course. I truly hope so – if all his books are as accomplished as The Strangler’s Honeymoon (and I am told they are).

Van Veeteren is a somewhat grumpy 60+ retired detective who has bought an antiquarian bookshop to fill his twilight years with a hobby he loves. But he is never far from the force he used to work for – and the current crop of detectives still call him Chief Inspector and seek his wise intuition in solving crimes. And ‘intuition’ is the key word… Van Veeteren works with a combination of the evidence placed in front of him plus his instincts. He is drawn into The Strangler’s Honeymoon by the visit, just as he about to go on holiday, by a priest to the bookshop – a priest who senses foreboding and who wants to talk to him ‘as a policeman, but not as a policeman’. Van Veeteren is too rushed to talk then, but promises the priest a meeting on his return. When he returns Van Veeteren finds the priest killed in an ‘accident’ and a teenage girl brutally murdered. His suspicions and his involvement begin to grow as he works with the police (and in particular Eva Moreno) to track down the murderer – a man they also suspect of other crimes.

The fictitious Maardam is core to the story from the smart middle class areas to the seedier parts of the city. As you read you can sense the deprivation that some people have to survive – and the weather fits in perfectly. It is grey and dispiriting… and ties in neatly with the sick violence of the crimes. A truly ‘noir’ setting for the story…

The Strangler’s Honeymoon is very certainly a ‘page turner’, but it is a great deal more. The characters are well drawn, sympathetic, and believable. The relationship between Van Veeteren and the current members of the police force is not straightforward but it comes through in a way with which one can identify and empathise.

All in all The Strangler’s Honeymoon is an excellent book, and one that I would very certainly recommend.

Tony for the TripFiction Team

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