Håkan Nesser is one of Sweden’s most popular crime writers. This particular title is the seventh of a “Nordic Noir” police procedural series featuring Chief Inspector Van Veeteren.
Much of the book is narrated by a criminal who is being sought by the [fictional] Maardam police force, members of whom narrate the remainder. Homicide Chief Inspector Reinhart has taken over for the man everyone continues to call “The Chief Inspector,” Van Veeteren – still a legend and still revered by everyone including his successor.
The story begins with a tense scenario in which a drunk man accidentally kills a young boy along the side of the road and flees the scene of the crime. He feels bad, but then becomes unhinged after he receives an anonymous letter from “a friend” saying he knows about the death and demands money in exchange for silence.
We don’t learn the identity of either the criminal or the blackmailer for most of the book, but neither do the somewhat feckless police. Then bodies begin to pile up that seem connected somehow – or maybe not. All the parties involved reflect on the way in which, once billiard balls are set in motion, their path is inevitable – the consequences are inexorable. [The Swedish title for the book is Carambole, which refers to a type of billiards, the object of which is to score points by caroming one’s own cue ball off both the opponent’s cue ball and the object ball(s) on a single shot.] In any event, Van Veeteren gets drawn to the investigation, and his instincts – ironically triggered by a game of chess rather than billiards, help break open the case.
Evaluation: This book is more about policing than about characters; we never get insights into who any of them are beyond one or two dimensions. Fortunately the crime and policing aspects are fascinating, and, along with a building of tension as the story progresses, makes for a diverting read.
Published in Sweden in 1999; Published in the U.S. in a translation by Laurie Thompson by Pantheon, a division of Penguin Random House, 2016