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).
Mrs. P – So very glad to hear that you liked this one. I think Nesser does brilliant work, and this one’s no exception. Good to hear my bias is justified.
Definitely, Margot. Am so pleased to have rediscovered him – he had somehow drifted off my radar. I have the next one lined up to read, but am just finishing off an Icelandic novel first. It’s a tough life, eh?
Hi, I read this a couple of weeks ago and loved it. I read The Hour of the Wolf just before and that was also a great read and one in which the emphasis is even more on the team. The Hour of the Wolf has a similar type of cover to The Weeping Girl – close up of girl – and as soon as I saw it I was reminded of the covers of the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series and wondered if the publishers were trying to trigger some association with this series that has made so much money in order to grab sales (not read them myself but the covers were particularly distinctive.) I found this quite irritating.
I haven’t read The Hour of the Wolf, so thanks for the recommendation, Sylvia – think I’ll save those I haven’t read yet as dependable treats for the dark winter months.
I’m sure you’re right about publishers using covers to trigger associations with best-selling series. It is irritating, not least because the images are so predictable and generic (close up of woman’s eyes / lips / high heels / bare flesh). What annoyed me about this one was the heavily made-up eyes which didn’t reflect the character in the novel at all. The French cover isn’t particularly brilliant, but at least it avoids that pitfall.
Yep, I imagine the girl as being rather the complete opposite. By coincidence there was a piece on Radio 4 Open Book programme today about the reissuing of classic fiction with pulp fiction covers and by-lines similar to B movies from the 1950s and whether this would attract new readers – Mariella Frostrup pointed out that the new reader might then be disappointed that the book wasn’t the raunchy novel implied by the cover. I see you’re reading ‘Someone to Watch Over me’ – I could not put that book down it was gripping – hope you’re finding the same – I’m now trying to work my way through everything else by Sigurdadottir.
I’d love to be a fly on the wall during discussions about the packaging of a novel or series. There’s a recent set of novels by Pascal Garnier, published by Gallic Books, that are beautifully packaged using more abstract imagery (see for example http://gallicbooks.com/title/hows-the-pain/9781908313034/ ). It does often seem to be the case that smaller presses produce more pleasing covers – perhaps because they are not catering to a mass market in the same way?
I’m about halfway through Someone to Watch Over Me and am very much enjoying so far. I’d tried an earlier novel in the series and hadn’t got on with it so well, but this one is keeping me engaged and entertained.
I, too, like the Hakan Nesser series. The plots and characters are complicated. These are not easy reads. They’re filled with emotions. At times, there can be humor in the midst of despair. They’re challenging, interesting, a lot more than many mysteries offer.
I look forward to reading this one, with the protagonist being Ewa Moreno, who was included in prior books, including Hour of the Wolf. And if this is anything like Elinborg’s role in Outrage — an excellent book — I can’t wait to read it.
I agree, Kathy, these are novels that have real depth to them – and I really enjoyed the focus on Ewa. She’s at an earlier stage of life to Elinborg, so her concerns are slightly different, but I enjoyed finding out more about her, and seeing her in investigative action.
That really is a terrible cover!
From what I can gather the whole series is styled in a similar way…
Thank you for the review. I have just read and enjoyed both the Hour Of The Wolf and Outrage so am looking forward to settling down with this one early autumn.
Have you seen any of the film versions of the Van Veeteran books? I have just been given the DVD of ‘Svalan, katten, rosen, döden’ and hope to watch it very soon.
You’re welcome, Lisa. No, I haven’t seen any of the adaptations (I’d only just spotted a little while ago that they existed, in fact). Do let me know what you think of ‘Svalan…’. I could be very tempted as long as there are subtitles.
Just checked the MHZ Network, which in the States sells episodes of many European TV crime series. They have two sets of three each of Van Veeteren’s investigates. One is, I am assuming, the one mentioned above: The Swallow, cat, rose and death.
They also show an episode a night of a series, repeated later on. This month, they’re showing several shows, including Sebastian Bergman.
I don’t know if you can purchase these dvd’s in Europe, but I think they must be available.
Hi Kathy – yes they are … and I’ve just ordered the first DVD, which contains three episodes, including my favourite Borkmann’s Point!
Oh, gosh, this is a danger in coming to good blogs; they lead me to want to purchase more books or dvd’s.
Let us know how this series in, and if the reports are good, there goes my credit card bill.
I will let you know, Kathy 🙂 The DVDs are on their way.
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