Recently, my love of Scandinavian crime fiction become a topic of conversation among some of my friends who, surprisingly, had no idea.
I first began my obsession when I was young, by reading Henning Mankell’s Inspector Wallander novels. The recent release of the atrocious Young Wallander series prompted a return to these novels, and to other old favourites from my Scandi-crime fiction collection.
When I was asked to recommend a series for someone who wanted something new and had never heard of Scandinavian crime fiction, the three that came to mind were Wallander, Martin Beck and Haken Nesser’s atmospheric Van Veeteren novels.
While the first two are fairly common names, a lot of people haven’t heard of Nesser’s creation, despite the fact that the novels have won numerous awards and been adapted in successful films. It’s strange, but many people overlook Nesser’s novels, which is a real shame, as they’re amazing thrillers that make for the perfect introduction to Scandinavian crime fiction.
Van Veeteren is an elderly Detective Chief Inspector, who retires in the later books but continues to involve himself in prominent cases.
The novels are set in Maardam, a fictional town of the author’s invention that could be in almost any Scandinavian or Northern European country. It’s sort of a cross between Germany and Sweden, with hints of each.
Nesser’s award-winning novels are atmospheric and enticing, and Van Veeteren is an engaging character. The author has the unique skill of giving readers a lot of information about his protagonist, whilst still keeping an air of mystery about him.
The crimes are often grizzly and the plots fast-paced and enticing, so you’re always on the edge of your seat when reading a Van Veeteren novel.
If you’re interested in immersing yourself in the world of this captivating detective, then keep reading for my list of the five best Van Veeteren novels for new readers of the series.
5. The Unlucky Lottery: This traditional family mystery with a twist starts off with a celebration, as four family friends win a lottery prize. Within hours of their windfall, one of their number is found murdered. With Van Veeteren on sabbatical, tending to a second-hand bookshop to overcome his demons, the case is assigned to Inspector Munster. As the body count rises and people involved with the case start mysteriously disappearing, Munster seeks out Van Veeteren and the pair delve deep into the dark history of the victim’s family. The novel is a fast-paced thriller that brings Golden Age family mysteries into the modern age.
4. Borkmann’s Point: While the title Borkmann’s Point might sound like a physical location, it’s actually a metaphorical position, which Van Veeteren believes is the point in the investigation where detectives don’t need more information, just to rearrange the knowledge that they already have. While holidaying near Kaalbringen, the detective is summoned by the local authorities to help with the brutal battering of two men who were killed by an axe. The local chief is soon to retire, and he wants to get the investigation put to bed. When a member of the police team goes missing while trying to find a link between the two seemingly unconnected men, Van Veeteren is put under pressure to bring the truth to light quickly. The writing in this novel is as fast-paced and gripping as ever, so despite the relatively slow investigation, the reader is kept riveted from start to nail-biting finish.
3. The G File: The G File explores the one case that Van Veeteren never solved: the case of a woman who was killed days after hiring a private detective to tail her husband, Jaan ‘G’ Hennan. The private suspects the husband, a violent and checkered past. However, despite his enthusiasm and diligence, the private detective can’t get enough evidence to convict him, partially because he has a solid alibi and he’s forced to allow him to walk free. He doesn’t close the file, but he can’t find anyone else for the crime. Then, 15 years later, the private eye goes missing, leaving a cryptic note that indicates that he knows more about G and what he’s done. Inspector Van Veeteren, who was on the case too and was as desperate as the private eye, takes the case and tries to find his missing man and use his information to solve the cold case. The merging of past and present crimes is something that Nesser enjoys, and it’s a great way for readers to delve deeper into the character’s mind and his personality, meaning that we feel a deep connection with him the more we read about him and his work.
2. The Return: Inspector Van Veeteren is recuperating in hospital after an operation and trying to solve a case within a case. The body of a man, who’s identity is believed to that of a local man who turned from hero to villain when he murdered two women. He was recently released on parole, and now he’s dead. Van Veeteren is convinced that the man’s death points to his innocence in the earlier crimes, so he’s now trying to solve two cold cases in order to uncover the truth about the more recent murder. It’s an intriguing tale that twists and turns despite the immobility of the protagonist, leaving the reader constantly guessing.
1. The Mind’s Eye: As I always say, the first novel is a great place to start when checking out a new series. The Mind’s Eye is no exception. We’re introduced to Detective Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, a jaded policeman who investigates the brutal murder of a young woman. Her husband pleaded amnesia, but was convicted as he was alone with her in the house and there was evidence to suggest that there was no outside involvement. Now, he’s in an asylum and he thinks he has some insight into what really happened. The novel is an amazing insight into this incredible series and I would recommend it for new readers.