Thursday, February 10, 2011

Håkan Nesser: The Inspector and Silence

Håkan Nesser's Van Veeteren series was written in Swedish in the '90s but is just reaching English (can his new series be far behind?), with what is, I think, the 5th translation, The Inspector and Silence. Simultaneously with reading the book, I heard a rumor that the MhZ Network in the U.S. has purchased the rights to the Van Veeteren TV series, to be shown this spring--an interesting development, if true.

The Inspector and Silence kept reminding me of two other, seemingly contradictory, crime novelists, the classic Swiss detective stories of Friedrich Glauser and the quirky novels of French writer Fred Vargas. Somehow, the ruminative Van Veeteren thrust into a small town (as he is in this book and in some others) reminded me of the dour detective of the Swiss writer, while his character quirks reminded me of Vargas's Adamsberg. Van Veeteren, just to name a couple of instances, plays both chess and badminton obsessively, likes to use stock phrases and aphorisms, and goes off by himself during the investigation, discovering the clue to the mystery by accident.

There are long passages of narrative, broken by occasional dialogue, and fortunately both the narrator and the interior monologue of Van Veeteren are lively and often funny. The narrator isn't Van Veeteren, but they share a wry sensibility, both of them often comparing the current situation to crime novels and movies (there are explicit references to Poirot and Holmes as well). The other cops are an intereting group, though not on stage nearly as much as the Chief Inspector.

The story isn't really a puzzle mystery, since the reader is as much at sea as the detectives. A woman calls a small-town police station, manned by a substitute while the chief of police is on vacation (it's July, and all the other detectives have vacation plans for August), saying that a young girl has disappeared from a summer camp run by a religious cult. When the acting chief, and ultimately Van Veeteren, called in to assist, question the cult (which has sexual overtones), no one will admit that anyone is missing, and no one offers much help.

Most of the novel is taken up with Van Veeteren's musings about what little they know, and about the cult itself, with little progress (though events do begin to take over the story with new discoveries). Much of the considerable pleasure, though, is sharing time with the off-center detective, who at the beginning is plotting to vacation in the same spot as a woman from a previous case (she's unaware of his machinations) and his desire to quit the police and become part-owner of an antiquarian bookshop.

Readers of the series will know (and anticipate with pleasure) the latest of Nesser's books to be translated, and new readers might dive in to The Inspector and Silence without any problem. Either way, I can highly recommend this book by a very different Swedish crime novelist.


Maxine Clarke said...

Nice review. I liked this one too, particularly the humour. The mystery was a bit "strange", though. I agree that there are similarities between this and Glauser, I hadn't thought of that until you mentioned it, but now you do, I see it! (Not so sure about Vargas though.)

Layton Green said...

Hi Glen,
I have a dark crime novel set in Zimbabwe I'd love for you to review, but I'm not sure how to contact you. I'd love for you to check it out at and shoot me an email. Thanks, and love the blog!