THE WOMAN WITH A BIRTHMARK by Hakan Nesser is the fourth instalment in the series of crime novels set in the fictious city of Maardam, featuring the previously a bit dark and brooding, but a very jolly and witty in this book, Inspector Van Veeteren. The novel starts with a funeral, where a daughter vows to undertake a mission in the memory of her mother. She changes name, takes up a new address and sets the plan in motion. Then we are confronted with a murder, of a seemingly dull businessman. Van Veeteren takes up the case, and the reader comes to know the identity of the killer.
The first thing which struck me out of ordinary was the theme of the novel. Nordic crime fiction has come to be associated with dark themes, and gory plots. Even the previous Nesser novels had gore in them. Enough to make a few readers put the book away(not me though). But here though the motive for the crime was tragic, but it never got to the point where it can be called gory. The book almost seemed like a modern day British crime thriller. The plot was such, that the culprit gets identified from the very first page. But, instead of dampening the pace of the book, it manages to turn the book from a whodunit to a very fast and intriguing Why-Dunit. The WHY became the sole running force behind this extremely enjoyable crime novel.
And, the other aspect that was new to me was Van Veeteren. Nordic crime fighters have become synonymous with the brooding detective. So much so, that in a subtle way Peter Lovesey even made fun of this brooding lot in his book THE TOOTH TATTOO. And, surely if this brooding goes on for a few more years, it will get clichéd. Van Veeteren was never one of those. Maybe he wasn’t always ready with witty one liner-s like Spenser, but he got out a decent laugh and a smile along with some fun remarks when needed. But, in this book he comes out with one witty remark after another. He delivers lines with an élan which makes him look like a fast talking American P.I. more than a serious Nordic policeman. But I loved the change. It made him look more human, and made it easier for me to read.