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Slowly but surely, they trickle into English. They come out of order, sometimes years late, and with different titles, but at least they come. This second Håkan Nesser translation is his fourth novel, and, I think, the third in his Inspector Van Veeteren series. And a fine series it is proving to be.

The body is found by a group of schoolchildren in a local wood. Wrapped in a carpet, lacking heads and limbs, it necessarily proves a trial to identify. Evidence eventually points it to being that of a recently released convict, a local athletic hero turned double-murderer who disappeared straight after his release nine months prior. However, just as the case is gaining steam, Inspector Van Veeteren has to go into hospital for an important operation. And it is thus from his hospital bed that he must marshal the present-day investigation, and, with a hunch that the answer lies in the past, with the two young women whom the recent victim was convicted of killing, trawl through old newspapers and trial transcripts in his hunt for the solution...

The concept of an investigation being conducted from a hospital bed should immediately put one in mind of those crime classics, Colin Dexter's The Wench is and Josephine Tey's The Daughters of Time, in which strangely compelling investigations are carried out by convalescent policemen. The Return is not quite of that class, but it is nonetheless a compelling and excellent crime novel, equally as good as his English-language debut last year. The one thing which stops it being of that class is the fact that we don't really spend quite enough time with Van Veeteren in hospital. Much legwork is done by inferiors (which is obviously necessary otherwise no progress would be made in the present-day case!) but sadly those inferiors are not quite as wonderful company as the Chief Inspector. Admittedly, though, occasionally taking the eye away from the drab and serious business of being in hospital does balance the book nicely and remove the risk of it becoming a bit gloomy!

The Return is a darker book than its predecessor, for several reasons. Van Veeteren has a serious illness, and his thoughts take on a slightly more philosophical angle than in the previous book, where he was perhaps more chipper and humorous. While that is still the case to an extent (he can be beautifully sardonic), that side of him is certainly leavened by his condition. Also dark is the plot, which features either a very harsh revenge, or a terrible miscarriage of justice (that is if the police are even on the right track) which has severe implications for the country's legal system.

Van Veeteren has been compared to Morse (and the book comes endorsed by Colin Dexter), but, though while he may be able to make covert allusions to Voltaire's Candide in the style that Morse might, he's actually more like Camilleri's Montalbano. Vaguely gruff, temperamental, a little eccentric, but overall very warm, and funny, and someone it's easy to identify with. Many fictional cops, you'd be hard pressed to say you would genuinely like to spend actual time with, but Van Veeteren is not one of them.

The Return is special in that we get insight into two periods, two environments in which crime is committed. It has interesting things to investigate: not only Van Veeteren's feelings concerning his illness, but also the climate of two social environments which bred crimes then and now. It's an interesting look at small-town Swedish society in the 60's compared to now, and while some things seem different, some things also seem disturbingly similar. The only problem with this is a slight overfull-ness in terms of plot, with the reader never quite getting the impression that any one strand is having teeth sunk into it (by writer, reader, or police). However, that doesn't detract from what is overall a top-notch crime novel, clever and innovative, that I enjoyed immensely. In the end, Van Veeteren oversteps a considerable boundary to achieve justice. The result of this will be very interesting to see in future books, and I await them eagerly.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 27 February 2008
I like Håkan Nesser's crime novels, but they aren't the best of the genre. One inevitably compares them to Henning Mankell's police procedurals and in some ways Nesser is superior: his dialogue and characterisation is better and they're a tad more believable. Unfortunately, they're also a bit duller.
The Return is pretty good. There's a gruesome dead body, a strange man in a strange village, and the venerable Inspector Van Veeteren on the case. There's added interest because 'VV' is in hospital having a cancer operation.
So although he ultimately solves the case, we get to see more than usual of his underlings, and Münster in particular.
Although the novel has all the right elements, is quite atmospheric and fairly compelling, I did find my mind wandering at times, and in particular lost track of the many inhabitants of the village where the murdered man lived. I wasn't entirely sure at the end who the murderer was, so any sense of surprise was lost. I just hadn't remembered his bit of the book.
I also didn't really like the way VV dealt with this case and found it a bit unlikely and unnecesary.
Even so, it was an enjoyable read, if not a riveting one.
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on 8 June 2007
A superb piece of detective fiction. Hakan Nesser has weaved an intriguing and complex world and draws us into it by establishing a sympathy with Van Veetering, his investigator. The layers of plot are carefully laid one on the other, but with such a lightness of touch that we never lose sight of the central thread. I much prefer Nesser's prose style to that of fellow Swede Mankell, but this may simply be down to poor translation in Mankell's case. Fortunately, Nesser's evocative, engaging style shines through. The Return is a book that will haunt you long after you have finished it.
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VINE VOICEon 18 October 2007
It was an early morning in August; Leopold Verhaven walks free after serving twenty four years in prison for double murder. He feels the first rays of warmth from the sun on his face; his aim, to quietly return home. On a rainy day the following April a child on a field trip wanders off into the woods alone, frantically the adults and party of friends search for the young girl they find her safe but disturbingly sitting next to a mutilated corpse half wrapped in carpet.

A new case for Chief Inspector Van Veeteren or was it? His stubborn determination not to let a case go unsolved, even if it was from a hospital bed while recovering from surgery. The decomposing body is soon identified as a local man the murderer Leopold Verhaven or so they believe. Van Veeteren becomes rattled at this news, his quick to reopen the old cases for the killings of Verhaven two lovers. Could it be that Verhaven had been judged by character and not by evidence all those years ago, was it never on anyone lips he may have been innocent? Maybe Verhaven really did commit those crimes and now this lastest killing is someone's act of revenge at long last. The only way to solve this present case was to review old documentation with complicated history of what now could be a few near perfect murders.

This Swedish series is coming to us translated out of order and quiet some years later. The Return I certainly prefered much more to the pervious novel, one small drawback for me, I felt some other police characters part of Inspector Van Veeteren team needed to be a bit more developed, you get the feeling you touch base with them but something is being held back, still we may learn more as the translation series goes on.

One character that really shines through in this book is Van Veeteren, after his serious surgical procedure his in a lighter philosophical mood with more humor and irony surfacing; and with that wonderful no nonsense attitude that I just happen to love, he couldn't go wrong. He also faces the prospect in this one of taking the law into his own hands, as he realizes the flaws in the justice system. Van Veeteren overstepping certain boundaries is very intriguing to read.

Another reason I found The Return more enjoyable would be the jump back and forth in time looking at different angles into a close-knit community with changes taking place and testimony from witnesses being broken down. We as the readers are let lose for a while, staying one step ahead of the police, the author gives to us a little extra piece of information on a certain date and time line, I found that very clever and interesting.

Håkan Nesser the Author worked as a teacher in Uppsala before turning his hand to writing Novels. In Sweden, his detective stories around Inspector Van Veeteren has received numerous honors. After reading this Novel I'm looking forward to future books in translation from this Author.


Andrea Bowhill
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on 18 March 2011
A prisoner is released from jail after serving a twelve year sentence. A little girl on a school trip in the woods comes across a man's body wrapped in a carpet. Inspector Van Veeteren is called in. His job is made harder not only by the fact that the body has been dismembered and decapitated, but it's also been lying there for about a year. And, as if that wasn't enough, Van Veeteren is due to go into hospital for a serious operation and is facing his own mortality. Nesser is an excellent writer. This is a clever and brilliantly plotted book that spans twenty years, but it is the character of Van Veeteren which is really special. He's slightly glum but with a great sense of understated humour. He's also realistic about justice, without being totally cynical. He doesn't suffer fools gladly, and he's not an easy man to get to know but he's sympathetic and likeable character, a good man and an excellent policeman.
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on 18 March 2012
The third of Hakan Nesser's novel that was translated into English, featuring the detective squad of the fictitious town of Maardam in a country thta is never named but is sort of Scandinavian. Inspector Van Veteeren is the main character here, although in later books he has resigned as a police inspector and become an antique shop owner.

Nesser weaves a compelling story that draws in the story of: a new murder that sparks links to two previous murders. Not only is Van Veteeren trying untangle the threads that weave the three murders together with little evidence to go on he also undergoes major surgery in the middle of the story. In lesser hands this would all come out sounding really implausible but Nesser has such skill it all works. Nesser lets the story unfold in a way that keeps you hanging on but without the annoying, so obvious cutting away to a separate story line to frustrate reader.

I would not hesitate to recommend this book in particular and Hakan Nesser in general. He concentrates far more on the solving of the mystery, with just the right amount of background of the detectives' lives so that it does not intrude on the crime. He does not go into the stomach churning detail of Jo Nesbo, although I love the Harry hole books too. A really satisfying read.
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on 17 April 2012
If you like Jo Nesbo (Harry Hole) and Henning Mankell (Wallander) you'll almost certainly enjoy Hakan Nesser. His detective, Van Veeteren, is as dark and complex as Hole and Wallander and the plots well constructed and gripping.
This was my introduction to this Swedish author and since then I have read two more, equally good. No need to say any more.
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on 10 May 2012
Another fast paced, brilliant thriller from Hakan Nesser and his superb creation, the wonderfully grumpy Van Veeteren.

The twists and turns are like a roller coaster ride, just as I have come to expect from this utterly fantastic writer. This book is the third in the series which has been translated into English, but I think there are a few more in the intervening period which haven't, which is a shame really as they haven't really been released in order. No matter though, as these are utter class and I am just about to start reading the fourth, Woman with a Birthmark.

I highly recommend this series to anyone who appreciates a great mystery and cannot possibly work out the perpetrator(s) before Van Veeteren. Cracking stuff.
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on 30 December 2011
This is the second Nesser that I have read and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed it. Despite this being a translation, the main characters are easy to follow, so you always know who is who. This story is about a body that is discovered without a head or limbs, and Inspector Van Veeteren and his team must investigate. However the inspector goes into to hospital for an operation and hence tries to conduct his investigation from his sick bed with the help of one of his colleagues who keeps him up-to-date with daily visits. Right up until the end, I had no idea who had done it and was surprised with how the Inspector closes the case. Overall a great read for those who like a good crime thriller.
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on 19 July 2009
No, things are never as they appear to be and no one knows this better than Van Veeteren, the insepctor on the case, and nothing will stop him from solving the nagging mystery surrounding a double murder. In fact, there are more murders as the plot unravels and just when you think you understand why and how, there is another twist in the tale at the very end. The writing is engaging, the story unfolds at a pace and you could be reading in installments one of the better thriller tv series. A great read which nevertheless leaves you feeling slightly wistful in that you wished you had known the main character better, the accused and murdered Verhaven.
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