Van Veeteren is among the most famous of Swedish fictional detectives, but this was my first written encounter with the character. This book started off brilliantly with a mystifying mystery of the locked room tradition: a drowned wife in a locked bathroom, the husband so inebriated he could only remember their wild festivity of the night before… and not how it ended.
He’s convinced that he didn’t kill her but the police and courts are not. Before the story is more than a third through we’re at the point where most police procedurals end – with his conviction and incarceration. But Van Veeteren, a detective prone to inspired insight and damaging depression, doubts the verdict… and then another killing sparks a full scale man hunt.
Sadly, the greater part of the rest of the book doesn’t live up to the promise of the earlier section, and gets bogged down in an awful lot of lists, numbers, alibis, cross-referencing and the like. There is such a thing as being a little too literal with the procedural aspect of the story.
Van Veeteren himself isn’t easy to engage with. He’s been given a range of quirky characteristics including a bad back, a criminal son banged up in prison, and a dying dog, but he seems distant and aloof from his staff… and likewise from the reader. Although we’re given a complete explanation of the who, how and whydunnit at the end, it wasn’t clear to me how the great detective intuited all this information as the investigation occurred.
The prose is plain and unfussy, and this isn’t an especially long book. It struggles to establish any sense of particular place or season and there’s little tension or drama. It’s ‘stolid Scandi’, lacking any great hook to draw me back for more. Leif Persson’s Bäckström series bring wit, emotional heft, literary dexterity and genuine grit to this genre. By contrast, Van Veeteren feels like just another by the numbers Wallander. Adequate, but not especially inspiring. So my first Van Veeteran novel may also be my last.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Mind’s Eye by Håkan Nesser is available in various formats at Amazon