The Swedish Maigret?

The rise of the popularity of Euro-cops over the last few years has led to a whole new list of Scandinavian authors rising to prominence: Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson. The list goes on and on. One of the very best, but a much lesser known name, is the Swedish author Hakan Nesser. He may not be as well known as Mankell, but I think that he's actually a much better writer. His Inspector Van Veeteren series is one of the best around, with some of the best contemporary police procedurals in the business.

His writing often reads rather like a TV script, so there's a zest and drive about it which can sometimes be lacking in some more ponderous authors. The crimes are cleverly constructed and sometimes narrated from an unusual angle - as is the case with Woman with birthmark, which is told from three distinct viewpoints, the police (and individual members of the police force), the victims, and the murderer. Thinking about this post-reading, it sounds incredibly complex. The fact that it isn't is testament to Nesser's clear slick writing. The psychology of the crime is often important, and his way of handling this owes a lot to Georges Simenon - Van Veeteren is the nearest I've read to Maigret. Woman with birthmark is a complex revenge tale with some exceptionally clever twists and turns. The author has evidently thoroughly enjoyed creating his tortured murderer.

I thought this was a great read. One of the best contemporary crime stories I've read in a long time. I've always enjoyed Hakan Nesser, but if you've never encountered him before this novel would be a great place to start.


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