The Inspector and Silence, by Hakan Nesser
Reviewed by Rima Walker
Is it the relentless cold? The desolate, lengthy Scandinavian winters? The isolation of people caused by the harsh weather a good part of the year despite the beautiful, sunny summer days? Probably yes to all of these questions, especially where Scandinavian crime novelists are concerned, since many of their criminal investigators go through periods of desperation and gloom. Add to this the horrors they have encountered over the years, the impact of these horrors on their personal lives, and the affects of aging. In short, many of them have just had enough. And this is the case of Inspector VanVeeteren, the protagonist of a series of crime novels by Hakan Nesser, who contemplates the impact of all of these factors on his life. The book is set in the height of summer. But criminality knows no weather.
Although about to shortly begin a badly needed vacation in Crete where the inspector hopes to make a decision about his future, VanVeeteren gets caught up in a crime that he feels he can solve in the two weeks before his vacation. Nesser draws on a frequent theme of the cult crime genre. The leader of this novel’s cult is Oscar Yellinek, an intense messianic fanatic with a submissive following of women and young girls who never doubt him. Nesser involves VanVeeteren in such a situation but turns it on its head. An anonymous tip reveals to the police that a young girl is missing from Yellinek’s camp called Pure Life. Despite forensics, there seems to be no evidence of murder, but yet another body turns up, and, of course, all suspicion turns on Yellinek, who then disappears. VanVeeteren’s job becomes all the more difficult when in the course of the investigation he can’t get a word out of any member of this congregation, which has built a wall of silence. Nevertheless, our staunch Inspector with the help of a hapless young partner named Kluuge, does solve the crime, as we knew he would.
So, what makes this crime novel different from others and worthy of being read? Aside from the fact that it is so well written, it all has to do with the ruminations of the good Inspector himself. He is a fascinating man who “ill treats” toothpicks and hates blue and yellow bathrooms. He is intelligent, brooding, sometimes depressed, often disillusioned, sometimes cynical, and with good reason. He has a failed marriage and a poor relationship with his children. He has no woman in his life, and thinks perhaps he should meet one. He is getting older; his back hurts. Instead of “rooting around in the trash heaps of his environment,” he wants distance; he wants “the observer’s perspective.” His disgust with the women who follow the ways of Pure Life and keep their silence makes him angry with them for obstructing his investigation, and he berates them but later feels that he has behaved like someone in a grade B movie: “An unadulterated turkey.”
Then there is Sargent Kluuge, at the beginning of his career, who appears at VanVeeteren’s side throughout the book like a faithful dog. After he discovers the dead body of a young girl camper, he feels that he has “just grown up”, and later that he has “grown old. . . even though it’s no more than a week since I grew up.” He knows that what he has seen will follow him for the rest of his life. At the end of the book, VanVeeteren’s decision is made: he doesn’t want to see another dead body. But somehow I don’t think we have heard the last of him. And certainly not the last of Sargent Kluuge.~