Nesser, Hakan - 'Hour of the Wolf' (translated by Laurie Thompson)
Looking back, he could never work out if it was what he saw or what he heard that came first. But in any case, what persisted most clearly in his memory was the soft thud and the slight jerk of the steering wheel.
A teenage boy reluctantly says good night to his girlfriend and walks out into the rainy night to catch the last bus. But the bus passes him before he gets to the stop. Pulling up his hood, he begins the long walk home. Somewhere else a man resists his friends' persuasions to stop for another cognac. Instead he gets into his car and makes a clumsy start to his journey home, more drunk than he had thought. The rain is sheeting down. And this is when it happens. The driver feels the slight bump and the jerk of his wheel. He stops, gets out of his car and runs back to see what he has hit. A teenage boy lies dead by the side of the road. Holding the boy in his arms, the driver wonders what to do. Then he lowers the boy to the ground and walks back to his car. He gets in and drives away. Nothing has happened, he tells himself. Over the next few days he cleans his car, burns the clothes he was wearing, and resumes his life. That is, until the blackmail letter arrives.
One week later the driver visits a bar and restaurant - his rendezvous. He carries a plastic carrier bag full of money. As instructed he enters the bar and leaves the bag of money in the gents. But instead of going home he waits in the car park, watching the door. And when a tall young man exits the bar carrying the plastic bag, the driver approaches him. As the tall man puts his key into the lock of his car door, the driver hits him over the head with a metal pipe. Then he hits him again. Prising the carrier bag out of the dead man's hand, the driver drags the body into the bushes. With the bag of money back in his own hands, he gets into his own car and drives home.
Haken Nesser's HOUR OF THE WOLF has been translated into English by Laurie Thompson, a veteran translator of Swedish crime books, and as "Carambole" the novel won the prestigious Glass Key award for Scandinavian Crime Fiction in 2000. Part of Nesser's established and popular crime series featuring Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, it is set in the fictional "Northern European" city of Maardam. By the time of this story Van Veeteren has retired from the police force and is part owner of an antiquarian bookseller business. But at police headquarters he is still referred to as "The Chief Inspector". In HOUR OF THE WOLF Van Veeteren's own life is brutally touched by crime. His ex-colleagues rally round to pull out all the investigatory stops. But in what turns out to be a story of blackmail, deception and death, triggered by the hit and run killing of a teenage boy, it is no surprise that it is Van Veeteren's own investigations that crack open the case.
Nesser's narrative describes the sequence of events as they occur, so we do in fact know "the killer" from the start. The testament to Nesser's skill is the suspense he maintains whilst we follow the police investigation and the police team's efforts to find the motive behind two forensically connected murders which they hope will lead them to the killer. For me however, there is something in Nesser's style that seems to leave me outside the story; something in the writing of the police team - and I emphasise that this is my own reaction - leaves me unable to differentiate their characters and I can't seem to visualise them. For this reason alone I do feel more at home with the crime fiction of Mankell rather than Nesser, but there is no doubt that Nesser is a writer worthy of his "Scandinavian Crime Classic" reputation. The subtlety of the writing is there, the social awareness - and the excellent plotting. Above all HOUR OF THE WOLF portrays a chilling escalation of actions that follows on from a thoughtless accidental killing with moral ripples that spread out and touch different individuals and families in the city of Maardam.
Read another review of HOUR OF THE WOLF.
Lynn Harvey, England