Written by Håkan Nesser — If you’re a lover of Scandinavian crime fiction, take warning. Most or the jacket quotes on the latest Håkan Nesser novel refer to the author’s Nordic Noir and Scandinavian crime fiction credentials. “Nesser is one of the best of the Nordic Noir writers…” says the Guardian.
However, although the author is Swedish and has won many awards in his homeland, he himself does not feel part of the Nordic Noir phenomenon. “Apart from the language factor I tend to believe we have very little in common. Myself and Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo and Karin Alvtegen, to mention a few, write in totally different styles, and sometimes the bunching together of us seem pretty arbitrary,” he told us in an email recently.
Reading The Weeping Girl as a fan of Scandinavian crime fiction, I tend to agree with him. It shares few of the characteristics that we associate with the sub-genre. For a start, it’s not set in Scandinavia, but in a country that Nesser has invented, which is similar to The Netherlands or Belgium. Most of the character names and places sound Dutch. There’s no ice or snow, and it’s not really a book with a dark and foreboding feel to it. There are no East European gangsters, neo-Nazis, or Odin-worshipping serial killers, and none of the characters has a genetic abnormality either, for that matter. The Weeping Girl might more accurately be described as Eurocrime if you wanted to slot it into a sub-genre, and it’s also very definitely a police procedural.
Now that we’ve cleared that up, what happens inside? Well, the book opens with a confusing sequence in which a young girl called Winnie Maas meets up with a man to drink, smoke and have sex. She talks about wanting to back out of a plan the fellow has, but it’s not clear what that plan is. She gets pushed off a bridge over a railway line, and dies.
Nearly two decades later, Ewa Moreno, protege of the now retired chief inspector Van Veeteren of previous Nesser books, is on her way to the seaside town of Lejnice for her holidays. On the way, she has to do a little work. An inmate wants to speak with her and he tells her that one of coppers in her division is a paedophile, but he won’t name the man. Is this just a ruse? On top of this, on the train journey to Lejnice Moreno meets an 18-year-old girl called Mikaela Ljiphart who is in tears. It transpires that she is going to see her father, who was convicted of the murder of Winnie Maas 16 years ago. Soon afterwards, Mikaela is reported missing.
Moreno is meant to be on holiday with her boyfriend Mikael Bau – enjoying sun, sea and sex at his family’s holiday home. But both cases nag away at her. Firstly, she’s disturbed that there might be a paedophile on the force. Secondly, what’s happened to Mikaela? She starts helping the local police who are looking for the girl, despite their inept chief, Vrommel. As with many detective stories, the investigations worm their way into her personal life. They’re getting nowhere in their search for Mikaela, but then a man’s body is dug up by two young boys on the beach. How are the Maas murder and more recent crimes linked?
Moreno questions everything except, perhaps, just why she’s so committed to the case even though it will ruin her holiday and her relationship with Bau. Nesser’s book is filled with convincing secondary characters, and there are lots of them – the local cops, journalists, the families involved, and so on. Some of the key scenes are vividly described, with poetic touches here and there. There are several little sub-plots going on as well. It seems there’s a touch of corruption going on. For long periods, however, the investigations are stalled and despite a lot of to-ing and fro-ing, not a lot happens. The ending, while realistic, is only partly satisfying.
If you like a complex police procedural, with an even more complex female lead detective, you’ll enjoy The Weeping Girl. And if you’re a fan of previous Van Veeteren books, don’t worry, the great man does make a cameo appearance later on.
CFL Rating: 3 Stars