Karl-Erik Hermansson and his daughter Ebba are celebrating their 65th and 40th birthdays with the one big family get together. The party is to take place in the quiet little Swedish town of Kymlinge before Karl-Erik and his wife Rosemarie pull up sticks and move to Spain. Both have recently retired from teaching.
Dark impressions are formed almost immediately when in the very first chapter Rosemarie starts having thoughts about killing her husband or herself. It seems one of them must die. However, these messages are conveyed in speech bubbles above two fat little birds that Rosemarie is watching. Yes, you could say that Rosemarie may have some issues, and yet she is not the only one in the family with problems.
Right from the word go, you could cut the tension with a knife. Robert, Karl-Erik’s son, has become infamous after being filmed masturbating on a reality tv show, a show with millions of viewers, in which the goal of the contestants is to become pregnant. Nobody is prepared to broach the subject that they all know is on everybody’s mind. It is in fact the reason that Karl-Erik and his wife, shamed and embarrassed, are moving to Spain.
Other family members include daughters Ebba, with her husband and two sons, and Kristina, and her husband and son. Of all the family, Kristina is the only one that cares about Robert’s feelings and is not ashamed and embarrassed along with the rest of the family. In fact, it is obvious to the reader that nobody wants to be at this joint birthday party.
Before the party can even get started, Robert goes missing. Naturally they all think that it must be because of the reality tv incident and so nobody is too concerned. Relief may be a better word to use instead, as his disappearance delays the inevitable looming confrontation with Karl-Erik.
However, things turn darker again when Henrick, the grandson also disappears the next night after the dinner.
When both fail to return, Inspector Gunner Barbarotti finally makes an entrance (I was starting to think I was reading the wrong book). Barbarotti takes the case, and the reader gets to read a wonderful character. Barbarotti, has a subtle dark humour, a sharp wit, and can be very confrontational. He is trying to ascertain whether God exists or not by using his own unique point system. He awards God points for answering prayers, taking points away when he doesn’t. Some of his conversations with God over this system are hilarious.
Barbarotti struggles, with any leads always ending in dead ends or brick walls. The narrative twists and turns as he tries to find what has happened to the missing men.
I have not read much Scandinavian Noir and with books translated into English you always wonder if the translator has been able to capture the author’s style. It may be one thing to tell the story, but to copy how the author wants to tell the story, to do justice to the author’s flair is another point. I am happy to say that I am sure that this translator has done a brilliant job.
This is a wonderful, dark, humorous, crime novel that will leave you guessing till the end. It is the first in a series of five and I will be reading all five for sure.
A big thankyou to Nat K for inviting me to read this along with the other members of the Darkest Day Buddy read group.
Håkan Nesser is a Swedish author and teacher who has written a number of successful crime fiction novels. He has won Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times, and his novel Carambole won the Glass Key award in 2000. His books have been translated from Swedish into numerous languages.
Håkan Nesser was born and grew up in Kumla, and has lived most of his adult life in Uppsala. His first novel was published in 1988, but he worked as a teacher until 1998 when he became a full-time author. In August, 2006, Håkan Nesser and his wife Elke moved to Greenwich Village in New York.