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.

Scandi-Crime?

English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton
English: Waterstones and Fat Face, Northallerton (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was wandering through the local Waterstones this morning to see what new books might be on-sale or worth paying that extra ‘bob’ or two for if not on-sale. I was really killing time while I waited for my business appointment time of two o’clock.

I took the escalator upstairs and after browsing through my favorite sections of the entertainment industry and biographical sections I moved onto the fictional crime section.

I noticed an entire display dedicated to Scandi-crime. I stopped for a moment to ponder this newly created genre. I have done the odd book review for Scandinavian crime novels aka mystery novels as I’ve enjoyed the ones I read. I was surprised to see that the apparent popularity of these previously undiscovered authors had spawned their own sub-genre.

When the literary world outside of Scandinavia discovered the late Stieg Larsson and his Millenium Trilogy two things happened almost simultaneously. The first was the public’s delight in the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo stories and the second was the presence of other Scandinavian writers.

Stieg Larsson’s popularity has opened the floodgates for other equally talented writers who only needed to be translated to English for the literary pundits to get excited about. I’ve read Hans Koppel and Thomas Enger, but both books by these talented men are obviously just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

On the dedicated display table in Waterstones I found out there were more presumably talented Scandinavian writers who had plenty of books for perusal.  Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Camilla Lackberg, Hakan Nesser, Karin Alvtegen, and Karin Fossum were the authors on display.

English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festi...
English: Håkan Nesser at a crime fiction festival in Bremen 2009 Deutsch: Håkan Nesser bei der Veranstaltung “Crime Time Prime Time” in Bremen im September 2009 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A lot of signage had been set up for Nesbo’s The Bat. The display that was just in front of the downstairs main cash register proudly proclaimed that this was the first time that the Harry Hole novel had been available to the English-speaking and reading world. Over 14 million copies of the book have already been sold.

In fact Jo Nesbo alone has eight books on offer at the moment. This includes the “first ever” Harry Hole book of The Bat. If you continue down the Waterstones webpage of Scandi-crime novels on offer you’ll see a ‘shed-load’ of books on offer. All of them written by Scandinavian authors.

Now I don’t know about anyone else, but I was gutted when I finished reading the last of the Millenium books only to find that Stieg Larsson had died and that he would not be writing any further books. I was also sad that this obviously talented man had died far too early. The blow was softened a bit by my accidental discovery of two more Scandinavian writers who were also very entertaining.

Now thanks to a chance encounter with a display table in my local Waterstones, I’ve discovered even more. I will admit to having a schoolboy giggle at the sign for Jo Nesbo’s book The Bat. The large placard touted the fact that this was the first ever Harry Hole book. I did have quite a few immature thoughts about ‘a Harry Hole’, ‘the Harry Hole’, and even about ‘how Harry the Hole was.’

Luckily for me, I was on my own. This prevented me from vocalizing the above thought pattern. So apart from me giggling uncontrollably for at least a full minute, nobody had a clue as to why. My daughter has threatened to pretend that she doesn’t know me when we go shopping. Besides my annoying habit of automatically seeing the rude side to items on display in shops, I also cannot control myself over the Christmas sales months.

Every toy or musical/mechanical/automated device on display that has a “push me” or “try me” button on it will be pushed or tried by myself. The end result is a cacophony of barking dogs, Christmas songs, singing Santa’s, et al all going off at once. Small children glare at me and mothers look disapprovingly at me while I scamper about pushing all the buttons. My daughter has learned to move away from me when we go into stores at this time of year.

Sorry, I’ve digressed quite a bit here. Back on topic!

These ‘new’ authors are on my ‘to read’ list. I will be looking up Harry Hole’s (sorry) first adventure as soon as I’ve finished reading Michael Grant’s Gone series. It looks to me like Scandinavia has a few more exports than just furniture and trees.

Finally I have to be fair to Jo Nesbo’s character Harry Hole, I’m sure he loses something in translation.