From his hospital bed, Sweden’s Chief Inspector Van Veeteren (Borkmann’s Point, 2006) solves a baffling case.
In the woods near the little village of Behren, two little girls find a corpse wrapped in a carpet. Identification is complicated by the absence of feet or a head. Brilliant Chief Inspector Van Veeteren is in the hospital for cancer surgery, so the bulk of the investigation falls to his team of six detectives, led by the sardonic duo of Münster and Rooth. After some funny red herrings, the case focuses on an ex-convict named Leopold Verhaven, released a year earlier after two imprisonments for two separate murders dating back to the 1960s. Short flashbacks dated a year before the main narrative counterpoint the probe. These seem to be accounts of Verhaven, just out of prison. At length, police come to believe that he’s the corpse. From his post-op bed, Van Veeteren examines evidence from Verhaven’s original trial and grows increasingly skeptical of the man’s guilt. If he was innocent, who could have wanted Verhaven dead? When he’s finally released, Van Veeteren gets to test his theory of the 30-year-old murders.
The second of Nesser’s many Van Veeteren novels translated into English feels like a novelty episode in the middle of a series. Precise plotting and deadpan irony make it highly entertaining, but the paucity of character development may make readers yearn for the installments that led up to it.