Review: Håkan Nesser – Hour of the Wolf

It took me a while to get into the books of Håkan Nesser. They are a little bit different from other Scandinavian police procedurals and his wry take on the idiosyncrasies of society and the slightly flippant tone of the writing can overshadow the well constructed plots. However since Woman with Birthmark, he’s become one of my favourite Swedish writers and I was looking forward to the release of his latest book.

Hour of the Wolf is the story how a single action can unleash a chain of events that have a cataclysmic effect on those involved. One evening, a teenage boy is killed by a drunken driver who stops his car and disposes of the body in a ditch. He then resumes his everyday life and embarks on a new love affair until he receives a blackmail letter in the post. A person claims to have witnessed the event and wants money ensure his silence. The car driver concocts a plan to kill the blackmailer but as events don’t go to plan, the killer’s control along with his grip on reality starts to unravel.

Police investigating the killings, led by Reinhart, have to break some bad news to Van Veeteren, the newly retired chief inspector. Unable to stand on the sidelines while the investigation takes place he nudges the police towards the eventual conclusion.

The book was similar in structure to previous books, particularly Woman with Birthmark in that we see the action from both the police and the killer’s point of view. As readers, we know slightly more than the police which can be irritating in other books but worked well here. The overall premise – the actions of a hit and run drunk driver to hide his crime- reminded me a little of Tom Wolfe’s Bonfire of the Vanities but the character of the killer is gradually revealed as someone with with serious delusions. His twisted view of the world allows him to justify each one of his killings in the defence of obscuring his role in the original death.

The police investigation was well constructed and it was nice to see Reinhart take centre stage after the focus on the Munster/Moreno relationship in the previous book, The Unlucky Lottery. His love of his family and attempts to step into the shoes of the legendary Van Veeteren gave him a strong role in the narrative. Although written in 1999, the gap in time was less obvious in this book even the latter chapters set in pre-9/11 New York.

The title of the book was slightly confusing as I originally thought it might refer to the Bergman film of the same name but the reference relates to the early dawn hour where the killer has to face the enormity of what he has done. Given the awful senselessness of the crimes, the lack of the gently mocking tone we have come to associate with Nesser’s writing was entirely appropriate. I felt the killer was slightly over the top but the way in which the killings were described, gathering their own momentum so that there was an inevitability about the murders compensated for this.

The book has also been reviewed at Eurocrime.