Wednesday, June 27, 2012

BOOK REVIEW : The Mind's Eye - by Håkan Nesser

"Van Veeteren was generally able to decide if he was looking the culprit in the eye in nineteen cases out of twenty, if not more.  No point in hiding his light under a bushel."

Such is the wry humour behind Håkan Nesser 1993 crime thriller novel's protaganist: Inspector Van Veeteran, which has been (ably translated from Swedish to English by Laurie Thompson, and published in 2008.

This novel is philosophical at times, due mainly to the alleged perpetrator, Janek Mitter's, a teacher of philosophy and history comments, which makes the reader ponder about the nature of life and death at several moments in the book, (something rarely found in crime fiction).

The story revolves around a disconnected innocent husband (isn't it always the husband? according to Harry Hole), who is held to trial for the murder of his wife. He claims he did not do it, and his only pathetic defence is that he has suffered a memory loss. He wakes up with a severe headache and an enormous hangover, and can't remember any events of the previous night to find his wife dead in the bath tub, (behind a locked bathroom door). Suspiciously, upon finding her, he cleans the flat and to add to his worsening prospects, he ridiculously claims in court, that he "will admit to everything if someone would give [him] a cigarette!"

Despite this, Van Veeteran has reservations that he is the real killer and this is confirmed when a month after Mitter's imprisonment in a psychiatric facility, he is murdered. The dead wife, a sex goddess type, with a dysfunctional family background is a real mystery, and the colleagues at the school where Mitter worked, seem unwilling to support him in any way.

"Eva Ringmar turned up in the fourteenth chapter of his life. Between pages 275 and 300, she played the role that overshadowed all others: the priestess of love, the goddess of passion, and then she went away, would probably continue for a while to live a sort of life between the lines, but soon she would be forgotten. It had all been so intense that it was preordained to come to an end. An episode to add to the plot? A sonnet? A will-o'-the-wisp? Finished. Dead, but not mourned. End of valediction. End of contradicton. No doubt this must be the state of shock that was driving his thoughts into such channels. That had crushed and demolished everything, made it impossible for him to grasp what had happened. To grasp what was happening to him....?"

Van Veeteran's investigation and tenacity comes from his belief in a "determinant" and this helps him solve this puzzling crime, even in the absence of leads.
An unusual story, predictable yet solvable, only in the dying pages of the book. The humour is apparent from page 1 and really sets Nesser's novel apart from other crime writers. One cannot get enough of them, and it comes highly recommended.
If you are hoping to read about the real Sweden in these pages, forget it, as the locations are as mythical as the stories! Still the Scandinavian genre of murder mysteries is evident in the winter, cold and rainy atmosphere!
I have ordered the two following sequels from Amazon already! Does that say something that I am pondering about?

The Good: Humour, in small to moderate doses that compliments the story and the philosophical touches
The Bad:  The frustration a reader feels when one's instinct tells one that the wrong person will be jailed. And the tragedy that leads to the murder and depressing nature of institutional life
The Ugly: The meaning of the title?

Rating: 9 out of 10

Here is a list of Nesser's Van Veeteran series that have been translated, thus far:
1993 The Mind's Eye translated 2008
1994 Borkmann's Point translated 2006
1995 The Return translated 2007
1996 Woman with Birthmark translated 2009
1997 The Inspector and Silence, translated 2010
1998 The Unlucky Lottery, translated 2011
1999 Hour of the Wolf, translation 2012
Three more in this series await translation.
Nesser is the winner of the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times over and a Glass Dagger Award in 2000 for another book in the Van Veeteren series.
Nesser has written another detective series, none of which have yet been translated into English.

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