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Friday, May 4, 2012

The Unlucky Lottery. Hakan Nesser (Writer), Laurie Thompson (Translator), Mantle (2011)

A slowly unfurling crime story that quietly builds up to a very satisfactory and biting conclusion. Four elderly men win some money on a lottery in Sweden. That night one of them is savagely murdered in his bed and another disappears and Detective Inspector Munster is assigned the case. It proves to be very difficult to find out anything beyond the fact of the murder, there is no real threads to grasp and pull in the case. When a neighbor of the murdered man disappears and a most unexpected person confesses to the murder it appears to have been solved. Inspector Munster is not convinced and continues to try to understand what really happened. The story has a slow steady pace, the reveals are cunningly set up and the very nasty secret at the heart of the mystery is carefully unwrapped.
The strengths of this book are in the cast rather than the plot which is a bit too slight to take the extended weight of the story. A great deal of time is spent on the investigation slowly grinding to nowhere and the trial of the person who confesses to the murder. While it is time well spent, the cast are very engaging, it does submerge the other aspect of the story. When the details do start to emerge there is a superbly structured third act which showcases Hakan Nesser's wonderful talent for crime fiction. The balance of the story has been lost by then however and the impact has been diminished.
The cast have to carry the story on their own merits as people a reader would be happy to spend time with and happily they are. Inspector Munster is feeling the weight of the job and wondering if his marriage is loosing something. He is not a genre staple of a unhappily married policeman, more wedded to the job than to a wife, rather he is a man who has been worn a little by the concentration of malice his job exposes him to. He retains a fundamental desire to understand that drives him to pursue the case beyond what would appear to be a satisfactory resolution. His fellow officers share the same basic competence and commitment to doing the job properly. They respond to the pressures of the case in very distinctive and individual way and the space they are given is well used.
The real weakness of the book is the villain, they do not get enough time to really create the context for the action. This absence reduces the impact of the plot, the critical reveal is superbly done and the devastating logic of the results is all to credible. There is a hole at the center however that is not filled, a tie that bound all involved with such force that its breaking created a wave of violent, fatal action. We see the aftermath, it would have been good to have seen the dangerous calm in more detail too. Enjoyable but not gripping.

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