Håkan Nesser, The Weeping Girl [Ewa Morenos Fall], translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson (London, Mantle 2013 ) 4 stars
Opening line: Winnie Maas died because she changed her mind.
The Weeping Girl is the eighth in Håkan Nesser’s Inspector van Veeteren series, although its lead investigator is actually his very capable protégé Ewa Moreno, as signalled by its original title, Ewa Morenos fall (Ewa Moreno’s Case). I have to say that I much prefer the Swedish title: placing an emphasis on the figure of the policewoman rather than the ‘weeping girl’ who triggers the investigation feels right, as the novel offers a 360 degree portrait of Ewa’s professional life and personal circumstances. In this respect, it also reminded me of Indridason’s 1998 Icelandic crime novel Outrage, in which Elinborg takes centre stage.
I’ve been a fan of Nesser’s work since reading Borkmann’s Point many moons ago (published in the UK in 2006). I remember loving the characterisation, the clever narrative construction, the gentle satirical humour, and the way the novel was situated in a generic European context, with people and place names that sound Dutch, German, Spanish or Polish. Six novels down the line, The Weeping Girl has maintained the very high standard of that earlier work (no mean feat this far into a series).
The novel uses a classic Golden Age trope: the detective pulled unexpectedly into an investigation while on holiday (e.g. Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey, Harriet Vane). Ewa is drawn into not just one but three investigations while staying in Port Hagen near Lejnice, the most prominent being the disappearance of a young woman, Mikaela, who has just discovered that her father – former school-teacher Arnold Maager - was convicted of murdering a teenager 16 years ago. Plotwise one could argue that there’s nothing especially new on offer here, but oh my, it’s extremely well done. Nesser balances the descriptions of the personal and professional aspects of Ewa’s life perfectly, provides us with a range of well-drawn and interesting characters (such as Lejnice police chief Vrommel), and combines the various narrative strands in such a way that makes you want to keep reading, but without ever feeling overloaded. All in all it’s a hugely enjoyable, quality read, and I’m now keen to catch up with the earlier novels in the series that I’ve missed.
A quick aside: the focus on team members other than the dominant investigator (such as van Veeteran or Erlendur) is a welcome development for the police procedural as far as I’m concerned, especially as it often places very interesting female investigators in the spotlight. It’s one I’ve only really just noticed, but must have been going since at least 1998 when Nesser published Münsters fall (Münsters Case)… Can anyone think of earlier examples?
Mrs. Peabody awards The Weeping Girl an expertly crafted and absorbing 4 stars
With thanks to Mantle for sending me a copy of this book (Petrona Award submission).