Bob Moyer travels a lot physically, and when he’s staying home, he travels through reading. Here he travels through literature to Sweden and reviews a book by one of that country’s leading writers of mysteries.
By Robert Moyer
INSPECTOR AND SILENCE. By Hakan Nesser. Pantheon. 287 pages. $24.95
Some things just don’t translate. Take, for instance, the Swedish names in Hakan Nesser’s latest mystery to make it into English – Maalvoot, Rooth, Munster, Kluuge, Malijsen, Sorbinowo and, of course, Van Veeteren, the chief inspector protagonist of this series. The book must be at least a page longer just from the names.
The Inspector himself doesn’t translate all that well; he has a taste for obscure art films, a dark beer before bed, and food far from the fare we usually find in a police procedural – pate, sole, and figs in cognac. Just a few weeks from vacation, and not that much further from retirement, the Inspector moves at, to say the least, a modest pace. He does have, however, one trait that ties him directly to the talented detectives we have come to know in the genre – intuition. Reason’s elder sister, he calls it. He has it, he trusts it, and he uses it.
As he debates his departure from the force, a police chief in the provinces calls him to ask a favor. A girl may or may not have been murdered; an anonymous call claims so, but no body has turned up. That is, until shortly after the Inspector arrives on the scene. A young girl at a summer camp conducted by an unusual cult that celebrates nakedness and God is found dead near the camp. The cult members, all women, keep their silence and create obstacles for the Inspector and his comrades. As the body count increases, so does their complicity in protecting the cult leader, the most likely suspect.
No car chases, or frantic cell phone calls here in the country of landlines, faxes, and country lanes. The drama unfolds in the internal dialogue as the inspector teases out bits of information through his clever interrogation. He even takes a rowboat out on the lake (it’s the hottest summer in history) to think things over, and cancels an evening interview to have ”another hour with a cheese board” and the evening papers.
But he doesn’t stop. A glimmer of an idea in one spot leads him to a slightly more promising spot where a “tiny pulse” of emotion puts him on the trail of a “stupid” mistake that the whole case depended upon. As the bodies accumulate, so do the facts that lead him to the door of the killer.
They also lead him to a decision at the end of the case about his vacation and his retirement. He takes his time as usual; he reads the paper before he takes the next step in his life, on the last page of the book.