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Sunday, March 11, 2012

The Inspector and Silence. Hakan Nesser (Writer), Laurie Thompson (Translation) Pan Books (1997)

A slow building crime story that quietly and forcefully builds to a strong and bitter conclusion. A young girl is reported missing from a Christian group in rural Sweden, the local Acting Chief of Police calls on Chief Inspector Van Veeteren for help. The Christian group, decline to co-operate with the investigation and there is an open question about the truth of the disappearance in the first place. When the body of a young girl, raped and murdered is discovered, the investigation gains a clear point of focus. The members of the sect, both adult and the young girls cling to silence and Inspector Van Veeteren has to try and understand what he is not being told. The investigation is seriously hampered by a lack of direct evidence and the unwillingness of the group members to co-operate. The case breaks in an unexpected fashion and finally comes to a grim and satisfying conclusion.
This is a very deliberately paced book, the investigation is a study in frustration as the team try to discover something new from scant evidence and uncooperative witnesses. The tensions of the investigation are very well drawn, as the ever present threat of another murdered child is faced with each passing hour. Running along side this are Inspector Van Veeteren's on thoughts about retiring from police work. One of the pleasures of the book is the way that Hakan Neser has avoided the cliche of a policeman afraid to retire as they have no life outside of police work. Van Veeteren is thinking about leaving without agony or severe loss, it is a matter more of having  run the course. It is a natural and difficult process and it is presented in a natural way, it overlaps with the investigation as a child murder is hard to bear.
The rest of the cast are drawn with a wry sympathy that is greatly appealing, everyone is handling a life as well as an investigation and trying to make it all work. The Acting Chief of Police Merwin Kluuge, expectant father and feeling horribly out of his depth with the investigation finds that he has to cope and manage in circumstances he could not have imagined. The way he responds and develops is very nicely written, the character is given the room to grow and develop.
There is a strong editorial voice in the story which adds to the pleasure, the cast are framed a bit by the comments, it does not intrude or act to try and force the reader to respond in a particular way. It is more of an aside that strikes off the situation. The pace of the story does not change when the final deductions are made and the murderer comes directly into the story, it is still a slow pace, the deliberate pacing makes the situation ever more horrible. The murderer is presented with care and restraint, the appalling actions that have been committed and may be committed are left to be realised by the reader and this adds to the force of the situation. This is a great crime drama that never forgets the victims are not just the dead.

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