It seems that Hakan Nesser’s protagonist, Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, has been retired for his readers as he is only glimpsed in this book. It’s a mixed blessing when authors do this. On one hand the books don’t feel the same without a character that readers have seen develop throughout a series. However, as is the case with Arnaldur Indridason’s Inspector Erlendur who has been absent in the last couple of books on a quest to find his missing brother, removing the central protagonist does allow existing minor characters to bloom and come to the fore. This is the case in Nesser’s latest book The Weeping Girl.
DI Ewa Moreno from the Maardam Police has to interrupt her holiday to meet a suspect who has demanded that he speak only to her. On the train to the interview she encounters the weeping girl of the title, Mikaela, who tells Ewa that she has just discovered who her real father is: Arnold Maager, a man convicted of killing one of his students years earlier. She is in her way to the psychiatric unit where he is being held to meet him for the first time as an adult. When Mikaela suddenly disappears, followed soon after by her father, Ewa becomes drawn into the case much to her boyfriend’s dismay, while the suspect who she is interviewing drops a bombshell that shakes her faith in her colleagues.
The greatest strength of Hakan Nesser’s books is the consistency of his writing. He has a distinctive style, writing strongly plotted novels with a solid police procedural focus. One of his early books, Woman with Birthmark, would be in my top 10 Scandinavian crime novels and he has managed to maintain the quality in his subsequent books. The Weeping Girl is his eighth book to be translated into English and the absence of Van Veeteren allows the character of Ewa Moreno to open out. The book is particularly good at showing the dilemma of a policewoman who enjoys her freedom and independence along with the challenges of her job and the toll it takes on her personal life. Moreno has always been an interesting character but, as this book shows, she could easily hold a series of her own.
The plot seems a little slight compared to some of Nesser’s earlier books. His novels aren’t generally particularly complex; there is often a central mystery with the team working to solve it. The Weeping Girl doesn’t really deviate from this style but perhaps the ending which (no spoilers) teases the reader slightly with its revealing of the culprit which might have given the plot an insubstantial feel. Nevertheless, Nesser remains one of my favourite writers and I hope to read his next book, The Strangler’s Honeymoon later this month.
Thanks to the publisher, Pan, for sending me a copy of the book.