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An illuminating case of Nordic noir

An illuminating case of Nordic noir

Håkan Nesser’s The G File follows the Scandinavian tradition of crime thrillers: taut, edgy and an exercise in perfection

By Rohit Nair (Senior Features Writer)

Published: Fri 19 Jun 2015, 4:18 PM

Last updated: Wed 8 Jul 2015, 2:50 PM

Scandinavian thrillers are rarely bad. In fact, they’re rarely just mildly interesting. The Nordics have a flair for this kind of stuff. Perhaps the bleak winters and the foreboding silence lends itself to dark secrets, sort of like how the dank and depressing ‘English summers’ inspired famous British &playwrights and poets to write some truly timeless pieces of literature. Or, perhaps it’s just the Scandinavian perfection of a state of order that makes criminals even more ‘bump-in-the-night’ than, say, some of the more archetypal villains that audiences across the Atlantic favour.

Even their heroes aren’t decked in leather, driving 1970s vintage Mustangs with pistols strapped to every conceivable appendage and trying to score in the bedroom. No. Here in Scandinavia, everything is beige. The hero takes his dog for a walk in the park, carpools with his fellow police officers, contemplates his next move in brooding drizzly weather and has to deal with a miscreant teenaged son and a rapidly deteriorating relationship with a removed wife. Normal. Mundane, even. But it takes a particular kind to make this interesting, which is why Håkan Nesser’s The G File is just stunningly brilliant.

The G File is actually the tenth and concluding part to the wildly popular Inspector Van Veeteren series, one that gets a couple of cursory references earlier on in the series. It is the only case that evaded the sharp and prolifically successful CID chief inspector in an illustrious 30-year career. The case involved the &alleged accidental death of a beautiful woman, Barbara Hennan, the wife of Jaan G Hennan (hence, the title of the book), and the early part of the book — which is divided into two parts: 1987 and 2002 — mostly involves the CID desperately trying to pin down the husband with a prior criminal record and a clear penchant for a particular crime, namely, taking out massive insurance policies on his wives and conveniently having them bumped off.

It’s probably the most clichéd crime in the book, and you’d probably think that it’s a plot that’s been beaten like no other dead horse, but this is where The G File  is brilliant. The tension and drama, from the interrogations, to the courtroom testimonies to the secret meetings, makes you want to think of all those scenes of fear in stillness in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. In fact, Fracture, starring Anthony Hopkins and a young Ryan Gosling comes to mind. Of course, this is way better, but if you can imagine Hopkins at his menacing best in a Nordic setting, that’s what Jaan G Hennan exudes. You know he’s slimy, and you know he’s guilty, but you share Van Veeteren’s, and his sidekick Münster’s, frustration in not being able to bring him to justice.

The case is particularly important to the inspector because he hates G’s guts. He even hates the name G. And the letter. He was his classmate and was a menace even during his youth, which resulted in the destruction of a part of Van Veeteren’s soul and is also one of the reasons for his troubled marriage.

15 years after a ‘not guilty’ verdict, the now-prematurely retired Van Veeteren — no longer chief inspector, but still very much a sharp detective — is intrigued when another body shows up. It’s that of Maarten Verlangen, a washed-up cop turned private detective, who smokes like a chimney and drinks like a fish. Guess who hired him 15 years ago? Barbara Hennan. Just a couple of days before she died... They just don’t write them like this anymore, which is why you should read The G File, if you love great mysteries with real-world panache and gravitas. The chemistry between the characters is entirely believable, their backgrounds are more than just plausible, and the seemingly simplistic plot is more than made up for by the compelling writing. Sure, it’s 600-odd pages long, but do what by the end of this book should be your Nordic friends would do: drink lots of coffee and light up.


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