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Håkan Nesser, De ensamma (The Lonely)

Albert Bonniers förlag,  2010. ISBN: 9789100124502

Reviewed by James Walker in SBR 2010:2


De ensamma is the fourth volume in a planned quintet of novels featuring DI Gunnar Barbarotti, and Nesser's twenty-fourth novel. It is a big and complicated book: seventy-two chapters, divided into four groups. There is an intriguing prologue and an equally intriguing epilogue. The narrative structure, with parallel stories taking us back and forth in time, is popular in contemporary crime fiction and employed here to great effect. Events in the university town of Uppsala in the late 60s and early 70s are linked to a police investigation in September 2010.The reader is excitedly anticipating the next time shift in order to discover what has or will happen. As employed in De ensamma, this narrative technique builds up tension and adds suspense to the unravelling of the plot. At first, we meet six fresh-faced students living in Uppsala.The time is the late 1960s and two young men, Rickard and Thomas, are there to do their military service. They soon become best friends and each in turn finds a life partner: Thomas meets Gunilla, and Rickard meets Anna, in a rather surprising way. The sextet is completed when Thomas’s sister Maria falls for Germund; these two are the oddballs of the group. All six are very close, do almost everything together and even travel around Europe by bus for a fateful month in 1973.When they return, things are no longer as they were and the couples drift apart, except for a reunion in 1975, which ends in tragedy. In the parallel 2010 storyline, we encounter DI Barbarotti at work, investigating the discovery of a dead body in the fictional Swedish town of Kymlinge. A male corpse has been discovered at the bottom of Goose Gorge in the exact same spot where a woman’s body had been found thirty-five years before. Coincidentally, the man who came upon the first body while walking his dog also stumbles upon the second body. Barbarotti and his colleague Eva Backman investigate this recent incident and try to link it to the previous death, which had been filed as accidental. Meanwhile, we learn more about Barbarotti himself, his family, and especially his relationship with his wife. As in the previous novels, we are also allowed to share his very personal relationship to his Lord. Eva Backman, too, has moved on from the previous novel and is now living apart from her husband and family. An extremely driven detective, she is determined to get to the bottom of this new case. The 1970s story is related by Rickard, a theology student, and by Maria, who dubs herself sparven – the sparrow. The criminal investigation is also seen from the separate perspectives of Barbarotti and Backman as they delve into the files from the old case as well as the current one. Håkan Nesser’s fiction has previously been described as ‘slow crime’. It is an apt description of this superbly crafted, considered and somewhat philosophical crime fiction. Not so much a murder on every page, but rather an account of the work of real detectives who are trying to get to grips with wholly plausible human tragedies. As they deal with jealousy, obsession, rage, mental aberration and loss, they still have to cope with their own lives. Four of Håkan Nesser’s crime novels featuring detective Van Veeteren have been translated into English. In the future, the stories about his latest detective, Gunnar Barbarotti, should be on the bookshelf of every English-speaking crime fiction fan.


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