Brilliant, compelling, unputdownable!
This Scandi-noir novel by The Killing writer Søren Sveistrup, and translated into English by Caroline Waight, concerns the Copenhagen police investigation into a series of cleverly orchestrated and gruesome murders, carried out by a killer who becomes known as The Chestnut Man, on account of the seemingly innocent children’s figures which are found close to each mutilated body.
Rosa Hartsung, the Danish Minister for Social Affairs returns to work, following a period of absence after the abduction of her daughter, Kristine. She is known to have been murdered, but her body has never been found.
As the investigation into The Chestnut Man begins, it appears that Rosa Hartsung’s return to office, and her responsibility for child welfare, may be linked to the killings.
Naia Thulin is a smart young detective assigned to the case as her last, before her coveted move to the cyber-crime unit. To her irritation, Mark Hess from Europol is also transferred to the case. The Hague do not appear to be in a hurry to have him return; he seems to have left under a cloud. The pair’s relationship in the first instance, is polarised, with both detectives’ focuses being on their long-term career objectives, neither of which is to remain in Homicide.
The development and complexity of the case, however, brings them together and they become an effective and close-knit pairing. Thulin follows procedure but is assertive, tech savvy and clever; Hess is more unorthodox and intuitive. They know they are playing a game of cat and mouse with the killer and as they try to break his hold over the game, the darker and more disturbing the story becomes, but are they still being manipulated?
Cleverly sidestepping the obvious, without being obtuse, is one of the major strengths of this story. I suspected, with due motive, almost every character apart from the actual perpetrator. Although I don’t always need it to be so, as a reader, it is really very satisfying when a story ties up every loose end, and this does, despite ending on an unsettling note.
Typical to this genre, which is one of my favourites, this Danish novel is dark and macabre, set in beautiful autumn, beset by driving, relentless rain and bitter snowfall as the seasons change. It provides the faultless atmospheric setting for the brutality and perversity of the most odious side of human nature.
There are some disturbing subjects, particularly concerning children, but they are pertinent to the central theme.
It is written in the present tense, mostly in present day, only occasionally taking us back to events in 1989. This allows a flowing visualisation of the story, and I would love to see this on screen. Fans of The Killing and The Bridge will, I think, love this book.
Many thanks to Netgalley and Penguin Michael Joseph for an ARC, in exchange for an honest and impartial review.
The Kindle and hardcover release date in the UK is 10th January 2019.