Sunday 21 July 2019

Scandi-noir 'whodunnit' from creator of TV smash-hit 'The Killing'

Crime: The Chestnut Man, Soren Sveistrup, Penguin, €18.20

The Chestnut Man
The Chestnut Man

Breda Brown

Just a few weeks into 2019 and I have already found a new favourite crime author. His name is Soren Sveistrup and his debut novel, a scandi-noir thriller set in Copenhagen, is called The Chestnut Man.

An intense serial killer 'whodunnit' that moves at incredible lightning speed, I was finding it extremely difficult to believe this was a debut book until I realised that Sveistrup is the same person who created and wrote the smash-hit TV crime series The Killing.

And the good news is that fans of The Killing will not be one bit disappointed by Sveistrup's first foray into novel writing. In fact, they will recognise many similarities between the two offerings - part police procedural/part psychological thriller, complex and moody characters, intricate plotting, atmospheric settings and plenty of suspense, all combined with a healthy dash of contemporary Danish politics and social commentary.

The Chestnut Man opens with the discovery of a young woman's body in a public playground.

One of her hands has been cut off and a small doll made out of autumnal chestnuts is found close by. Detective Naia Thulin, part of the Homicide Squad, is assigned to the case, along with a new partner called Mark Hess, a burned-out investigator who has just been kicked out of Europol in The Hague.

Initially both are uninterested in the case as they are absorbed with other issues - Thulin is focused on moving into the Cyber Crime Unit because her current role isn't challenging enough, while Hess, running away from a traumatic past, is just biding his time until he can return to Europol. But things change when the pair discover a piece of evidence on the chestnut doll which connects it to the disappearance of a child a year earlier.

The daughter of Rosa Hartung, the Government Minister for Social Affairs, is now presumed dead, and the man who confessed to her murder is behind bars.

But, when a second woman is found murdered, with more limbs amputated and another chestnut doll nearby, Thulin and Hess begin to suspect there is a connection between the three cases.

The pair also realise that the murderer - The Chestnut Man - is on a mission and if they don't uncover the truth soon, more people will die.

This is one of the best crime thrillers I have read in years. Every single character was alive on the page, and this, combined with a superbly crafted plot, meant I couldn't turn the pages fast enough.

The writing is crisp and concise, with not a word wasted, and each chapter hurtles the narrative towards the excellent and extremely satisfying finale. At 500+ pages, this book looks daunting, but the deftly woven story and the hook at the end of each short chapter keep you reading.

While Sveistrup may have learned his craft writing scripts for television, he has honed it to perfection for the printed page and he now undoubtedly has a stellar writing career ahead of him.

I just hope we don't have too long to wait for his second crime novel.

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