Book: “Borkman’s Point,” by Hakan Nesser

“Borkman’s Point,” by Hakan Nesser, was written in 1993 but not published in English until 2006. It’s part of a series starring Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, whose popularity in Sweden rivals fellow fictional sleuths Kurt Wallander and Martin Beck. So far, five Van Veeteren books have appeared in English, the latest in 2010 (though it was originally written in 1997), and a sixth (written in 1998) is due later this year.

In this book, Van Veeteren is sent to a small town to help catch a serial murderer called The Axman, since he kills with an axe. Two murders occurred before his arrival, and one more occurs after he arrives.

It’s very much a police procedural. There isn’t much action at all. Rather, you tag along as the cops talk to people, follow clues, and discuss what they’ve got so far. They go a long time without much of any clue whatsoever.

Nesser develops his characters well, and keeps you in suspense. The murderer wasn’t at all who I thought it would be, though the idea did cross my mind once. But I was more focused on others. Nesser is great at misdirection. This was a totally satisfying plot.

The title refers to a policeman’s rule that sometimes you already have all the information you need to solve the crime, and if you keep collecting more information, it won’t help. You just have to look closely at what you’ve already got and follow your gut.

I previous read two other Van Veeteren books back-to-back, “Mind’s Eye” and “The Return,” and reviewed them together on my blog. Those were very good books, too.

Curiously, Nesser never identifies the country in which the books take place; it seems to be a made-up country in northern Europe. The setting resembles Sweden, but it’s not Sweden. The names of towns and people are mostly Dutch. As I read, I picture the Netherlands.

Five Nesser books have been translated into English, and all five feature Van Veeteren. “Borkman’s Point” was translated first, in 2006, followed by “The Return” (2007) and “Mind’s Eye” (2008). However, “Mind’s Eye” was actually written first, back in 1993.

The translating for the three books I’ve read was done by Laurie Thompson, a British academic who has translated works by a number of other prominent Swedish mystery writers, including Henning Mankell and Ake Edwardson. I came to appreciate his translations initially in the Mankell books; his name is on 10 of them now.

All of Nesser’s English publications appear under the Black Lizard imprint from Vintage Books.

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