Hour of the Wolf by Håkan Nesser
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am reluctant to assign five stars to a mystery novel that is in no way a literary masterpiece. Hakan Nesser's "Hour of the Wolf" does not have the sociological depths of Denise Mina's "Gartnethill". It does not have the simple beauty of some of Karin Fossum's best work. Yet it is such a darn good book. On the surface it is a police procedural, one in Mr. Nesser's Chief Inspector Van Veeteren series, which is located in a fictitious country in Northern Europe that seems like a cross between the Netherlands and Sweden, with some neighboring countries mixed in. When one looks deeper though, the novel is a treatise on guilt and human weakness, a contemplation of this side and the other side of our existence and non-existence.
I think that older people will appreciate this novel more than the young ones. One has to acknowledge the unavoidable proximity of the other side to understand some of the undercurrents present in the book. I was stricken by a beautiful sentence: "The dead are older than the living." I first thought it a quote from some famous philosopher. Not so. It seems to be Mr. Nesser's own. Beautiful. And wise.
To me "Hour of the Wolf" is the best of the six Nesser's novels I have read. It has an engrossing plot, economical and simple writing, and everything that happens in the plot leads to the final solution. As an icing on the cake it has an extremely funny ending, happening in New York, with Mr. Nesser having a field day writing about the U.S. culture. Some readers will complain that the denouement is predictable. Yes, it is. I do not care, with the book being so excellent in so many other ways.
A disclaimer: In some sense Mr. Nesser's work reminds me of novels by the great Nicholas Freeling, whose plots were located mainly in the Netherlands or France, but the locations felt just like "in Europe". Maybe I am biased, being a European.
Still, I have not had so much fun with a book for quite a long time.
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