Review: Hakan Nesser – The G File

The G FileHakan Nesser is one of my favourite crime writers. His Woman with Birthmark easily features in my top 10 crime novels of all time and I’ve found his output to be of a consistently high quality. His protagonist Van Veeteren has taken a back seat in some of Nesser’s later books but he is back with a vengeance in this final novel of the series. The G File features that most potent of cases, an old investigation that remains tantalisingly unsolved. But, given that it’s Nesser who’s doing the writing, there is plenty in the narrative to surprise the reader.

In 1987, private investigator Verlangen is approached by a woman to follow her husband, Jaan ‘G’ Hennan. When the woman is found dead days later in her empty swimming pool, suspicion naturally falls on Hennan who has a reputation for violence. However, at the time of his wife’s death Hennan was drinking in a bar with Verlangen, the man who was being paid to watch him. Although Hennan is arrested, Van Veeteren, who has his own demons to conquer in relation to the suspect, is unable to find anything to prove the man’s guilt. Fifteen years later Verlangen goes missing, leaving behind a message that suggests he finally found proof of Hennan’s guilt. For Van Veeteren it’s a chance to finally lay ghosts to rest and one last case before he completely retires.

Some books that complete a series are often a disappointment, earning their plaudits as much from the sense of an ending than literary merit. This isn’t the case with The G File. At 400 pages, it’s a long book but the splitting of the narrative onto two distinct parts, that of 1987 and 2002, means that the plot never drags. The character of Verlangen, alcohol soaked yet loving his teenage daughter, which is developed in the first part exerts a strong pull in the later narrative, despite his absence. There is a nice symmetry, typical of Nesser’s writing, that his now adult daughter instigates the search for her missing father.

I guess is must be part homage to the books of Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö that there have been ten books in this series. We have seen Van Veeteren morph from a serving Chief Inspector to a retired bookshop owner, dragged out of his retirement for one last case. In this final book he displays the tenacity and talent we as readers have grown to appreciate and it is a fitting end to the series. And, without giving away too much of the plot, Nesser still has the ability to surprise.

Thanks to Pan Macmillan for my copy of the book. The translation was by Laurie Thompson.

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.