Book review: The Weeping Girl by Håkan Nesser

The Weeping Girl
The Weeping Girl

The renowned Chief Inspector Van Veeteren might now be retired and ensconced in an antiquarian bookshop but his voice still speaks loud to his young protégé Ewa Moreno as she is drawn into a disturbing case...

Håkan Nesser, one of Sweden’s best and most popular crime writers, returns in an intriguing and intelligent murder mystery which encapsulates all that is so addictive about Scandinavian crime fiction.

His compelling Van Veeteren books have picked up a fistful awards and despite the partial disappearance of the enigmatic chief inspector, the eighth in the series enjoys renewed vigour from new kid on the block, the lovely, likeable Ewa.

Nesser is a consummate crime writer, providing brooding, atmospheric thrillers brimming with tension, startlingly real characters, illuminating nuggets of dry humour and plotlines that plumb the depths of the human soul.

And in an ironic twist on the gloom and darkness of the traditional Swedish crime mystery, Nesser’s new drama is set in the heat of a sweltering summer where, rest assured, the sun still manages to cast a large shadow over both the hunted and the hunters.

Detective Inspector Ewa Moreno from the Maardam Police is more than ready for a holiday with boyfriend Mikael when she is commandeered into interviewing a notorious lowlife criminal who claims to have ‘information’ for her ears only about a rogue policeman.

He is under arrest at Lejnice, close to her holiday house, and her ‘copper’s conscience’ won’t allow her to turn down the job. On the train journey there, she is moved by a weeping teenage girl who reveals she is preparing to meet her long-lost father.

He is teacher Arnold Maager, convicted of murdering his pupil Winnie Maas, apparently pregnant with his child, 16 years ago and has been incarcerated in a secure psychiatric unit in Lejnice ever since.

On her eighteenth birthday, Maager’s daughter Mikaela finally learned the terrible truth about her father and, desperate for answers, is travelling to the institution to meet and talk to him.

Soon afterwards Mikaela inexplicably vanishes and Ewa finds herself part of the inquiry into her disappearance. But before she can make any headway in the case, Maager himself also disappears – and then a body is found. It soon becomes clear to Ewa that only by unravelling events in the past will she unlock dark events in the present...

The resourceful, pragmatic, love-shy Ewa slips effortlessly into the gap left by the towering presence of Van Veeteren and a cameo appearance by the dogged old detective himself adds a welcome sparkle to the proceedings.

But it is Nesser’s easy, uncomplicated and yet compelling style which grabs us by the scruff of the neck from the memorable opening lines of The Weeping Girl and refuses to let go until the last page has turned.

Long live the king of the Nordic thriller...

(Mantle, hardback, £16.99)