Thursday, June 11, 2009

Woman With Birthmark

Woman With Birthmark
Author: Håkan Nesser (translated from Swedish by Laurie Thompson)
Pantheon Books, 2009 (originally published in Sweden in 1996)
335 pages

Two books ago, I entered the world of Swedish mystery novels, and never quite managed to leave it. I found Woman With Birthmark while looking for books like The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo on Amazon.com several weeks ago, and decided to borrow it from my local library. I was the first person to check out the brand new book, which was written by an award-winning author of several books featuring the character known as Inspector Van Veeteren. 

Van Veeteren works in a city called Maardam, which is a fictional city -- but based on the other place and character names, seems to be somewhere in The Netherlands. Nesser writes with a strong sense of place, which gives this book a very European flavor.

In the opening section of Woman With Birthmark, a young woman is dealing with her mother's last wish: the elder woman had confessed something to her daughter just before she died, and implored her to do something about it. Next comes a series of bizarre murders as three men are killed under very similar circumstances. Van Veeteren and his colleagues at the police department find a connection with the dead men, who were all in the same military unit in 1965. It becomes a question of motive: what happened in 1965 that would cause someone to murder these men thirty years later?

Nesser provides us little insights into several of the characters, including the title character and the Inspector, but also Biederman, the last of the intended victims. Biederman is a despicable character. His growing paranoia is nearly comical at times. 

Van Veeteren is a dull, middle-aged, divorced father (I forget the details, such as whether he has one or two children, but he doesn't seem like a candidate for father of the year or anything.) Don't get me wrong - it's not that I don't like him - rather, that I just didn't feel anything for him. He has a new "girlfriend" - a psychologist who, upon hearing of the murders, tells him that the murderer is a woman. Then suddenly, a witness comes forward and sure enough, the suspect is a female . . . a mysterious woman with a birthmark. To my memory, there was only one reference to the birthmark in the book . . . I could be wrong, or perhaps it was a translation thing. Or perhaps it was meant to be that way.

I didn't enjoy this book very much, yet for some reason I kept reading it. I have no idea why. It took way too long. I still have one more Swedish mystery book on my shelf, but I think I'm going to read something else next.

Rating: 3.5 stars. OK, but not impressed.