Sunday, 7 July 2013

Book Review: THE WEEPING GIRL by Håkan Nesser

The Weeping Girl

Title: The Weeping Girl
Author: Håkan Nesser
Publisher: Mantle
Read: July 01 - 05, 2013

Read an extract

Synopsis (Amazon):

Winnie Maas died because she changed her mind...
A community is left reeling after a teacher – Arnold Maager – is convicted of murdering his female pupil Winnie Maas. It seems the girl had been pregnant with Maager's child.

Years later, on her eighteenth birthday, Maager's daughter Mikaela finally learns the terrible truth about her father. Desperate for answers, Mikaela travels to the institution at Lejnice, where Maager has been held since his trial. But soon afterwards she inexplicably vanishes.

Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno from the Maardam Police is on holiday in the area when she finds herself drawn into Mikaela's disappearance. But before she can make any headway in the case, Maager himself disappears – and then a body is found. It will soon become clear to Ewa that only unravelling the events of the past will unlock this dark mystery...

My thoughts:

Police Inspector Eva Moreno is not overly impressed when she is asked to interrogate a “scumbag” criminal (and police informer) on the first day of which was supposed to be a relaxing holiday by the seaside with her new lover. On her way to the dreaded interview, Ewa meets a young weeping girl on the train – and finds out that the girl, too, is on her way to a difficult meeting. Having just turned eighteen, Mikaela Lijphart has finally found out the identity of her birth father, who has been incarcerated in a mental institution for the last 16 years. She is on her way to see him to find out about the events that saw him imprisoned and her own mother reluctant to ever utter his name again. A few days later, Mikaela Lijphart disappears. Drawn into the investigation by the impression the young girl left on Ewa, and the local Chief Inspector’s reluctance to take the disappearance seriously, Ewa conducts a few investigations of her own – and gets drawn into an old murder case which may not have been as straight forward as it appears on paper ….

Like Nesser’s previous novels (which I have not read), this story takes place in a fictional Northern European country which seems to be a hybrid of Denmark, Netherlands, Germany and Sweden – and features characters with names from various different European nationalities. This totally confused me at first, until I googled one of the featured town names (Maardam) and found out that it is not a real location – well, one mystery solved! I also found out that The Weeping Girl is the eighth book in Nesser’s Van Veeteren series, and the first one to feature Ewa Moreno as a central character.

I really liked Ewa – in her thirties, with a failed long-term relationship behind her, Ewa is at the stage where she is questioning her life and career and longing for a family of her own. Her relatively new love affair with psychologist Mikael Bau offers a small glimmer of hope for her dream to come true, but pragmatic Ewa has her doubts about any happily-ever-after, knowing only too well that her police career usually interferes with her private life. And Ewa is a conscientious, compassionate and dedicated police officer, who will sacrifice her own needs to find justice – and is not afraid to go behind the back of the inept local Chief of Police Vrommel (termed affectionately by one of his own team as “the skunk in uniform”). Resourceful and determined, Ewa follows her leads tirelessly to get to the bottom of the mystery. And despite some personal issues, Ewa is not the seriously damaged character depicted in many other Scandinavian crime thrillers, but a person most of us will be able to relate to on some level.

Nesser’s police procedural is not the typical Scandinavian thriller I have come to expect – with a very dark and brutal element dominating the storyline. I have seen the story categorised by one reviewer as “Eurocrime”, and with Nesser’s setting being modelled on several European countries, this is not a bad name for the genre. Readers who find writers like Nesbo, Mankell and Larssen a bit too bloodthirsty may be pleasantly surprised by this author, who focuses more on the actual police investigation than the dark foreboding atmosphere and lurid descriptions of crime scenes found in other Nordic thrillers.

I did find the book a bit slow in the beginning, but was quickly drawn into the mystery once it unfolded. At times the translation seemed clunky, which made for a few laughs (not sure if the humour was intended by the author or if it was courtesy of the translation only) – one description of a “coagulating head” sticks in my mind. A case of a quite literal translation of a Swedish idiom? Nesser’s writing style is sparse, with few words wasted on flowery descriptions or explanations, which may not appeal to everyone, but which I found quite refreshing and unique (although I thought it did make it a bit harder to connect to the characters).

In a new class of Scandinavian (or European) thriller, The Weeping Girl may appeal to a wider audience of readers who enjoy police procedurals without all the gore. And although it did not grip me as much as some of my favourite Scandinavian authors (Nesbo included), I enjoyed reading The Weeping Girl and will look up some of Nesser’s other work in the future.

Thank you to the Reading Room and the publisher for providing me with a free preview copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

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