(48. – 1019.) The Chestnut Man by Søren Sveistrup as translated by Caroline Waight - Gruesome murders of 30 years ago and the present open the book.
Young Danish homicide detective, Naia Thulin, is assigned to pick up Hess, a liason officer with Europol who has been abruptly dispatched home. He is:
Tall, upright, yet somehow a little down at heel. Unkempt, rain-soaked hair, worn and sopping Nike shoes, thin, baggy pants, and a short black quilted jacket that also looked likeit was thoroughly drenched.
His left eye is green and his right eye is blue. He declines, politely but firmly, to explain why he joined Europol.
As they examine the body of a woman, Laura Kjær, tortured and murdered, Thulin notices a figure hanging near the body:
Two dark brown chestnuts placed on top of each other, the top one small and the bottom one large. Two holes have been scratched into the smaller chestnut to make eyes. Matchsticks have been poked into the larger one, representing arms and legs.
I can see the “Chestnut Man” filling the screen of a movie. (After reading the book I learned you can expect to see it as a series on Netflix.)
The casual attitude of Hess towards the investigation irritates Thulin intensely. Even before the exasperating Hess comes into her life Thulin has applied to be transferred to the cyber-crime unit, NC3.
Rosa Hartung, Minister for Social Affairs, and her husband, Steen Hartung, who is a prominent architect, are coping with the disappearance of their 12 year old daughter, Kristine, a year ago. A paranoid schizophrenic young man, Linus Bekker, confessed to sexually assaulting and killing Kristine. He was convicted and is in a psychiatric institution. A phrase - “grief is love made homeless” - reflects their aching loss.
As Hartung resumes her duties as Minister there are some crude anonymous threats made against her.
When Kristine’s fingerprint is found on the “Chestnut Man” everyone is thrown into turmoil.
Hess, initially indifferent to the investigation as he desperately wants to return to Europol, cannot resist the lure of a mystery. He is a clever dedicated investigator who startles Forensics by buying a dead pig and dismembering the pig with a machete to see if the results support the confession of Bekker of killing Kristine.
Kjaer’s killer toys with the police.
And then another woman, Anne Sejer-Lassen, is tortured and killed. And there is another “Chestnut Man” with Kristine’s fingerprint.
The investigation accelerates and the pages fly by.
I was reminded of the diabolical killers in the Lincoln Rhymes series by Jeffery Deaver who play deadly games with the police.
Thulin finally learns Hess’s first name is Mark and grudgingly gains respect for his fierce determination to solve the case even if he offends superiors and fellow officers.
Hess is a lonely voice asserting there is a connection between Kristine’s abduction and the murders of the women. No one in the police is ready to concede that their massive effort to find and convict Bekker was wrong.
I was swept up in the twists and turns of the plot struggling with Hess and Thulin to grasp an ever more complex investigation.
The killer is a master manipulator and meticulous planner.
The investigation turns on careful examination of the evidence and a refusal to accept official conclusions that does not accord with the evidence.
I was reminded of the pace and excitement I had while reading The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
The last 100 pages are almost impossible to put down. The Chestnut Man is what a thriller should be at the end. There is drama, twists, tension, violence and a convincing, all too credible, finish. The resolution left me intensely sad.