Category Archives: Nordic

Borkmann’s Point: An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery, by Håkan Nesser

1994. (In English 2006.) Received the 1994 Swedish Crime Writers Best Novel Award. Thanks to Stieg Larsson for the flurry of translations of Nordic crime writers.

Inspector Van Veeteren is a thinking man’s crime solver. He goes quiet, almost meditative, when he’s on to the solution, when the pieces so neatly fall into place and he strategizes his arrest. His underlings know to leave him alone when he slips into such a mood.

While Van Veeteren is on vacation in the north of Sweden a couple of gruesome ax murders occur in a nearby coastal village. Of course he’s called on to interrupt his less-than-perfect personal down time. His personal life apparently isn’t that great. He could use the change of scenery.

Van Veeteren takes the assignment and immediately forges a bond with the soon-to-retire chief of police of the village. The two men discover a mutual love of chess and keep each other apprised of progress over the chess board while sipping fine wine from the chief’s cellar.

The clues to the case are few, other than the bodies dispatched so cleanly with a single blow to the neck, and there seems to be nothing linking the victims. Pressure builds on the police to catch the killer and gets worse with a third victim.

Borkmann’s Point: That point in an investigation when enough information has been collected and beyond which new information only blurs the vision of the solution. One of Van Veeteren’s challenges: determining when he reaches that point.

Well-drawn and sympathetic characters, a strong sense of place, and an easy flow to the narrative. I have to admit that I spotted the red herrings early and had my eye on the killer about mid-way through but I still enjoyed the way the tale built to its satisfying conclusion.

Thank you Stieg.


The Devil’s Star (Harry Hole #5), by Jan Nesbo

2003. (2005 in English.)

The Devil’s Star is a good fast-paced crime novel that takes you around downtown Oslo, a city I know from repeated visits, to its parks and its monuments. It’s the heat of summer, which usually lasts about a week, and everyone’s in the mountains or out at their hutta on the fiord.

Harry, er, Hole, I can’t get my head around what I’m supposed to call this guy. Call him Hole? Okay, so Hole doesn’t do vacations. He drinks. He has a busted up personal life. He’s of course the best police detective in Oslo. His boss protects him from his departmental enemies as long as he can but even he loses patience. As the book begins, Hole is in the process of being fired.

But. A grisly murder of an attractive woman mobilizes the vacation-depleted force. Hole gets called in, refuses the call, and his nemesis assumes control of the investigation. Then another similar murder five days later results in Hole and his sworn enemy working the case together.

It’s a serial killer. There are grisly details. Attractive victims. Plot twists. False trails. A corrupt police element. A taunting cat-and-mouse game with the killer. And Hole’s fight with the bottle.

Nesbo reminds me of Harlan Coben. His characters are well-drawn but for me they don’t really pop. His plots are intricate and well-paced but for me they could use some creative editing. Nesbo, like Coben, could cut a third from the books that I’ve read and save a few trees.

At the end, for example, the killer explains his actions to Hole for fourteen pages. He simply decides to tell him everything he did in mind-numbing detail. Show don’t tell? Maybe that advice doesn’t apply to best-selling crime writers.