I have only reached page 93 of Hakan Nesser's The Return, but then like a good wine or delicious meal this is a book to be savoured, and not gulped down in one mouthful.
24 August 1993 a man is released from prison after serving 12 years for murder. He had previously back in the 1960s served another 12 year term for another murder. [A liberal Northern European setting rather different from the USA]
Eight months later 6 year old Eunice on a nursery school outing finds the body of a man wrapped in an old carpet. The identification of the body is complicated by the fact it has no head, hands or feet.
The investigation is complicated by the fact that Van Veeteren has been called into hospital for a vital operation.
From this simple beginning Hakan Nesser draws the reader in with some very dark humour, and teasing plot that means we learn relevant facts along with the team of detectives in a true police procedural style. I suspect that real life detectives faced with murders have to react in a similar way to Van Veeteren's team or they would go mad. My own memories of dissection as a student are clear in that although we did have great respect for the body, when you spend hours in communion with a head and torso you have to break the tension somehow.
If you don't laugh a little at life and death you end up like Hakan Nesser's forensic specialist Meusse, who has sadly lead a miserable life due to his less than uplifting profession, impotent by 30, his wife left him at 35, a vegetarian at 40, he stopped eating solid food at 50.
I obviously have a similar sense of humour to the author because it is the contrast between the horror of the crimes and the sarcastic banter between the cops that is the major factor, along with the plot and sharply drawn characters, making this novel so enjoyable for me.
"Can we be certain that it was a murder?" asked the chief of police. Rheinhart sighed.
"No," he said. "Obviously, it could be a straightforward natural death. Somebody who couldn't afford a proper funeral, though. It's a expensive business nowadays....... The widow no doubt donated his head and the rest to medical research, in accordance with the wishes of the deceased."
Van Veeteren coughed.
This is yet another excellent Scandinavian crime mystery and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.