Woman with Birthmark – Håkan Nesser

I’d like to thank Jo at Bibliojunkie for her enticing review of this book, one I hadn’t heard of before but couldn’t resist seeking out – like Jo I read it in a couple of days and really enjoyed it.

I seem to be reading a bit more crime lately. Woman with Birthmark is a murder mystery featuring Inspector Van Veeteren and is set in what I presumed was a city in Sweden. It turns out that the setting is in a fictional place in an unidentified country- one thing is clear, it is bitterly cold. The bleak weather combined with post christmas lethargy makes it difficult for Inspector Van Veeteren to feel much enthusiasm for his work. Being the old hand that he is, one seemingly unremarkable murder is hardly worth leaving the warmth of home for. Then a second murder..and a third… and suddenly Inspector Van Veereren is fully engaged as he and his team search desperately for the connection between the victims and attempt to protect those still alive.

The beauty of the story is in its simple narrative style and level of suspense. It doesn’t have an especially complicated plot or a lot of police procedural detail. We have a good idea of the motive about half way through. There is also no secrecy around the identity of the killer (to the reader at least) as she is the first character we meet, the sole mourner at her mothers funeral. The mother’s last words to her daughter set off a chilling chain of events:

Don’t cry. Whatever you do, don’t stand there bawling at my funeral. Tears have never been any use in any circumstances, believe you me. I’ve sobbed bucketfuls in my lifetime. No, do something my girl! Take action! Do something magnificant that I can applaud up there in heaven. “

An exciting read. We have the perspective of the killer, the police and the potential victims – and the added twist of the victims knowing they are at risk but not being able to admit it to the police. It is hard not to feel some sympathy for the killer and admiration for her tradecraft.

This is one of a series of novels featuring Inspector Van Veeteren and if you enjoy a sleuth with a good dose of cynicism and a dry sense of humour then definitely give this one a try. I’m not sure that I do but I found it a great read anyway. I have the Inspector lined up again for one of those cold Sunday’s in January – the perfect time to experience him I imagine.

Translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson

1996, (English 2009)
256 pages


2 responses to “Woman with Birthmark – Håkan Nesser

  1. Thanks for the mention. Glad that you like it. I finished The Mind’s Eye recently. Not as good as this one but still good. 🙂

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