Book Review: The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

Book Review: The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup (2018) 4 Stars ****

A shining example of the Nordic Noir, also Scandi Noir, genre, this Scandinavian fiction crime novel hits all the elements. If you’re a fan of The Dragon Tattoo series, you’ll love this book. Set in Copenhagen, Denmark, Detectives Thulin and Hess are assigned to a guesome murder case which soon is recognized as the work of a serial killer with ties to a an abduction/ presumed murder of a twelve year old girl the previous year. This girl is the daughter of a high ranking government official, so no stone is left unturned in the investigation. Although no body is ever found, a local psychopath confesses to the crime, and is imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital. This new serial murderer leaves a token of his presence—a small doll made of chestnuts and matchsticks—at the scene of every crime. It is said of the chestnut man, “If you find one, he’s already found you.”

The detectives look to the imprisoned killer for help in solving the case. This manipulative, lying psychopath is no help, but the detectives follow the until now, overlooked leads, which very slowly unlock the mystery. The victims are deemed neglectful or abusive mothers by their killer. Although no evidence of mistreatment is evident to outside observers, the killer accuses them as such, and upon deeper police investigation, the truth comes out. The victims die a horrible, torturous death as punishment for their sins against their offspring. The exception to this rule is the government official who apparently does not fit the stereotype. So, what’s her story? Lots of red herrings to distract the reader forn the truth. Lesson learned: Beware of high ranking officials who don’t have to account for their time and whose decisions seem counterproductive to the task at hand.

The detectives demonstrate a classic push and pull, unrequited sexually tense, love/hate relationship—swinging from cooperation and respect for their partner’s strengths to impatience and secrecy in following leads and sharing theories. Impatient, aloof, ambitious, single mother Thulin resents being paired with Hess, a methodical, outside-the-box thinker, a reject from Europol who has been sent to Denmark as punishment for some previous professional mistakes. Although not usually working together, each one manages to bring the case closer to resolution. When push comes to shove, their underlying loyalty to each other is proven when they endanger themselves to save the life of the other.

Typical of its genre, language is simple and direct without descriptive or literary techniques to detract from the facts. Chapters vary in length: the short ones used for chase scenes and excitement, long ones for explanation or narrative.

The story is told from the detectives’ point of view. Both are main characters but not clearly defined as such. The landscape, weather, and mood are dark, reflecting the sad events but also indicative of the struggle, disappointments, and unhappiness of the detectives who soldier on, despite their internal conflicts. Their hearts are broken from their past and present lives, but they do their jobs for the good of society and for the victims and their families. The outside bleakness mirrors the bereft interiority of the detectives. Nordic Noir contrasts society’s veneer of a simple, controlled life with the underlying sub-culture of sexual misconduct, murder, anger and other strong emotions leading to grotesque murder.

A combination of police procedural and psycho thriller, this genre is not for everyone. Although it always contains vicious and anti-social behavior, the lack of emotional language allows the reader to be one step removed, so that the depraved events are presented in an objective, factual manner, allowing the reader to be a casual observer rather than pulled into the emotions of the scene. I would say this technique of unemotional language makes the violence more palatable.


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I wish you all a life inspired by the wonder of the world around us. May you find and live your truth, in harmony with people, nature and the environment. May you be a force for good and a source of love and comfort. May the world be a better place for you having lived and loved here.

All rights reserved 2019

Saturday, March 14, 2020- Barnes & Noble, Massapequa, NY 12:00-4:00pm

June 2020
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