Nesser taps a stand-in for his latest thriller

Håken Nesser is a brilliant writer who’s always at the top of his game.

Why he’s not better known in the United States is a mystery in itself. He’s by far the best in the business and is widely known in his native Sweden, having won the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times. His new release, Münster’s Case, is yet another compelling Nesser police procedural that’s so tight, human and so easy to read that it feels as if endorphins waft up from the pages. Reading Nesser, you sometimes close the book and have this shocking realization that someone actually pounded the story out one keystroke at a time.

Nesser’s stories tell themselves; there’s no sign of the author anywhere. The characters are real people with emotions real people feel, including humor, however black, and pride and bewilderment that humbles. No grandstanding, no bluster – chastened men and women of law enforcement trying to do a job with an ability always being honed yet never nearly sharp enough.

After four retired pub chums chip in to buy a winning lottery ticket and get together to celebrate their modest windfall, one is found dead in bed, stabbed 28 times with a carving knife, and another goes missing before the sun rises. Nesser’s five other crime novels that have been translated into English have featured famously sagacious Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, who is on sabbatical preparing for well-earned retirement, tending his used bookstore and forgetting the ugliness of police work. In his stead, Inspector Münster, Van Veeteren’s protégé, has a puzzler for his first solo case. He haltingly plies his trade one dead end after another, trying always to think like the maestro, but always coming up short.

The murder seems to solve itself with the confession of the dead man’s mousy wife of 40 years, who ungrudgingly walks into a jail cell with her knitting. Then another murder of another pensioner on the same shabby apartment block sends Münster to Van Veeteren for help.

It seemed unlikely in the first place that the dead man’s wife so viciously murdered her husband, and now an unrelated homicide casts even more doubt and disorientation. After two weeks, Münster and his comely partner Ewa Moreno have no material clues and no clue about where to turn next. The interplay between Münster and his mentor is a priceless literary study in deeding authority and self-confidence.

Next, another dead man, the second of the quartet of lottery winners, the one who vanished, is found wedged between his houseboat and the dock. And still no clues, just more nowhere leads. It’s a fascination to watch this story unfold, the process of finding the cur one hair at a time, the twists and switchbacks, tracks blown gone, walls where windows should be.

Münster’s Case (titled The Unlucky Lottery in Britain) is not Nesser’s best story, certainly because Van Veeteren isn’t the featured actor, but it is wonderfully done and a thoroughly fulfilling read that will have you searching for more Nesser. Jeff Mannix is a local journalist and author.