Danish novelist Soren Sveistrup’s “The Chestnut Man” offers us two fascinating protagonists, several gruesome murders, a few puzzling clues, and zero investigative results — through many hours and days — despite a long, grueling search for the perpetrator. Here is an electric police procedural/murder mystery and a harrowing miasma of gritty suspense that builds to a brutal, ugly, and entirely appropriate climax. “The Chestnut Man” is downright perfectly nerve-wracking. Just as it’s supposed to be.
A serial killer is on the loose, and he’s slippery and smart. He leaves his eerie calling card behind at the scene of each vomit-inducing murder — a stick figure fashioned from chestnuts. Also at the murder scene are scattered sawed-off body parts spread diligently around the area.
The two protagonists are Thulin and Hess, two detectives who have been forced to become partners, apparently mismatched and not at all happy to be working together. She — Thulin –is an intense, hard-working, very intuitive cop and a very loving single mom. He — Hess — is a cold, bitter character who seems to like nobody, drinks way too much too often, and has been suspended from his job at Eurpol and sent back to his original place of work, demoted to a position he abhors — plain old cop. Hence, his partnership with Thulin.
They immediately become involved in the frustrating search for the Chestnut Man, wherein they’re stymied by the requisite roadblocks: false leads, a plethora of suspicious characters, young-mother victims, and the shady, shaky feeling that they are being cleverly steered onto dead-end paths.
The climax is stunning and scary. And I would dare any reader to figure out the identity of the murderer until it’s revealed very near the end of the story. This is Nordic Noir at its best, a most convincing and involving demonstration of dogged determination — and sheer brutality. Read it and have yourself a nervous and gory good time. (JK review)
Please note: This review is based on the final, hardcover book provided by Harper, the publisher, for review purposes.