The Unlucky Lottery by Hakan Nesser: Swedish Secrets

Four old men win the lottery. They don’t win millions, but for at least two of the old boys, death is their pay off.

Touted as a part of the Van Veeteren Series, The Unlucky Lottery is the first of this series I’ve read and the man himself is running a bookshop whilst on an open ended sabbatical.

I enjoyed the Swedish detectives (known as Intendent‘s) struggles as they attempted to solve the case of the two old men. The first, stabbed to death in his bed and the second missing. Unfortunately I didn’t know enough about either character at the beginning of the book to care. It also took me quite a while to “warm” to the detectives.

I have no idea if the detectives are regulars in the series and as Van Veeteren himself only has a cameo in this book, I did not get much of a chance to “bond” with his character either.

Nesser takes great pains to show the less glamorous side of police work. He shows us the boring and often unproductive side of the work that detectives have to do in order to solve a crime. Unfortunately, this boring side of police work almost put me off the book. The victim and his immediate family, and their neighbours, were so boring and nondescript that I found myself having to “force” read the book.

If I had not been so stubborn, I would have missed the brilliant way that Nesser ties up the wandering strands of the investigation at the end of the book.

The detectives on the case were perhaps a bit too real. They had problems and issues that plagued them to the extent that it took them away from effectively investigating the crime. That was Nesser’s point I believe. But it was off putting and distracting until, again, all was explained towards the end of the book.

I have no idea if Nesser’s style of writing is to point out the mendacity of crime solving in every book, but in this one the suspects and witnesses were so unprepossessing I almost gave up on the book several times. The family of the stabbing victim were dysfunctional and completely uninvolved with the crime. Uninvolved in a clinical sense, they did not care or want to care about murder, even though the victim was their father.

The family’s low key and resentful existence all makes sense later in the book, but for the vast majority of the story it is merely annoying. I found my attention wandering every time a detective questioned the family and witnesses. In this story, no one was helpful, either because they did not see anything or because they did not know anything.

The victim Waldemar Leverkuhn and his family were so insular that no one seemed to be on overly friendly terms with them. This should have started warning bells with me as a reader but, because of the agonisingly slow pace of the investigation, I didn’t notice until the detective’s noticed.

I suppose that despite the fact that Nesser has “over 10 million books sold worldwide” his style is very different from the other Scandinavian authors I have read so far. Rather than writing about larger than life characters, he chooses to write about people that would not attract attention from anyone. Even in death, these people are so nondescript that any secrets that they may harbour will remain secrets because no one cares.

It could be said that Nesser is being clever in his choice of characters and I guess to an extent he is. But he almost lost me several times during the book because of the nature of his main players. As I mentioned before though, he ties up the investigation very nicely and cleverly at the end of the book, but if I hadn’t been too stubborn to stop reading the thing, I would never have learned the secrets or the motives unearthed.

So my verdict is that the vast majority of the book was hard to care about and the ending was almost a case of “too little, too late.” Overall, I would have to say I won’t be rushing to read any more of the Van Veeteren books, even though his ending for this one impressed me.

A book recommended for only the most stubborn of readers.

Hakan Nesser.