Nesser, Hakan - 'Hour of the Wolf' (translated by Laurie Thompson)
The seventh (of ten) in this police-procedural series set in a fictional country not unlike Holland is a superb example of a classic crime novel, no doubt aided significantly by Laurie Thompson's typically excellent, understated translation. For the first few movingly conveyed chapters, we are in familiar Nesser territory as a 16-year-old boy, walking home late having missed the last bus, is killed by a drunk driver. The killing preys on the driver's mind: he clears away all traces of evidence and after a few days is convinced that nobody has seen him. Then, a letter arrives from someone who claims to know about the crime, demanding money for keeping silent.
What happens next lurches the book into new territory for Nesser: things get personal. This author is the master of the detached, forcefully ironic and amusing tone. His books are peppered with pithy observations, unerringly summing up the petty (and not so petty) annoyances of life. Though Nesser's novels are always good to read, they don't quite hit the emotional bull's-eye in the manner of, say, Karin Fossum. HOUR OF THE WOLF meets this challenge head-on, as the crimes escalate and retired chief inspector Van Veeteren finds himself right in the middle of them.
The Maardam police are baffled by the case(s) they have to try to solve. Reinhart (Van Veeteren's successor) is back from paternity leave so he and his team - the insightful Moreno, the ever-hungry Rooth and Jung, and others - work round the clock but can't find a connection between the victims or indeed any evidence that provides them with a motive or other pointers towards the criminal(s). Interestingly, it is the personal involvement of the police with the crime(s) that makes them as individual characters gel in the reader's mind which, for me, they have not in previous books.
The reader knows quite a bit more than the police, including why the particular victims were chosen, because much of the book is told from the point of view of the perpetrator. But when one breakthrough is finally made towards the end, the book switches perspective to portray events only from the investigators' view. This device provides a tense finale to the novel as the police follow leads, gather evidence and make the necessary deductions - with the odd flash of helpful inspiration, naturally.
I found this book to be similar in style and impact to the marvellous Martin Beck novels by Sjowall and Wahloo, in particular in the manner in which the investigation is described, as well as in the descriptions of the thoughts and personal lives of the police officers, accompanied by occasional pointed authorial observations and value-judgements. In addition to this structural framework, the intense suffering of a previously detached and cynical man, when faced with a personal tragedy, is very movingly depicted. I very highly recommend this book, and I'll end my review with a typical quote from Van Veeteren: "Life is much over-rated. But it's better if you don't discover that too soon."
Read another review of HOUR OF THE WOLF.
Maxine Clarke, England