I borrowed Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye from the library for inclusion in my year-long Reading the World project. I hadn’t heard of it before, but I count myself as a fan of Nordic Noir, and thought it might be just the thing to read on a cold winter’s night. This volume has been translated from its original Swedish by Laurie Thompson, and was first published in Sweden in 1993; the author was victorious in the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Prize for it, and subsequently won other prestigious awards for his later work.
The Mind’s Eye is the first Inspector van Veeteren mystery, in which a history and philosophy teacher named Janek Mitter awakes to find that he cannot remember who he is. He then discovers the body of his beautiful young wife, Eva, floating in the bath after an attack. Even during the trial which follows, he has no memory of attacking his wife, or any idea as to how he could have killed her; indeed, ‘Only when he is sentenced and locked up in an asylum for the criminally insane does he have a snatch of insight. He scribbles something in his Bible, but is murdered before the clue can be uncovered’.
The novel’s opening passage is quite striking: ‘It’s like being born, he thought. I’m not a person. Merely a mass of suffering’. In this manner, Nesser gets straight into the story. He continues thus when the body is discovered, using short, snappy sentences to capture the mood: ‘He entered the room and, just as he switched on the light, he became quite clear about who he was. / He could also identify the woman lying in the bath. / Her name was Eva Ringmar and she was his wife of three months. / Her body was strangely twisted… Her dark hair was floating on the water. Her head was face-down, and as the bath was full to the brim there could be no doubt that she was dead.’
The Mind’s Eye is rather a quick read, and a page-turner, at least. It isn’t the most gripping mystery, nor the most memorable slice of Scandicrime; in fact, it lacks the darkness and the often twisted, gory killings of many of its contemporaries. There are far more grisly whodunnits out there, and part of me wishes I’d selected one such instead. Nesser’s effort is well plotted, and the plot points do keep one interested in the story. I cannot help but feel that the blurb of the novel gives a little too much away, however. There is nothing overly special about the translation, sadly; the way in which it is rendered takes away any memorable prose, and it uses many paragraphs made of short sentences to further push different points home. Needless to say, it is not a series which I will be continuing with.