The Chestnut Man review: Soren Sveistrup turns from The Killing to crime fiction
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The Chestnut Man review: Soren Sveistrup turns from The Killing to crime fiction

CRIME FICTION

The Chestnut Man
Soren Sveistrup
​Michael Joseph, $32.99

The Chestnut Man is long, dark, grim, and compelling. What else would you expect from the man who wrote The Killing, the Danish television crime drama that has come to define Nordic Noir?

Sarah Lund (played by Sofie Grabol) with Kodmani (played by Ramadan Huseini) in a scene from the Scandinavian detective show The Killing.

Sarah Lund (played by Sofie Grabol) with Kodmani (played by Ramadan Huseini) in a scene from the Scandinavian detective show The Killing.Credit:act atasha.rudra

Soren Sveistrup's crime novel shares many characteristics with his famous television series – a multi-layered narrative, social and gender issues, and even its sense of place. The Chestnut Man also begins with a scene of terror in the countryside outside Copenhagen.

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It's 1989 and veteran policeman Marius Larsen is on a routine call to talk to an ageing farmer whose livestock have gone astray. Sveistrup sets the scene with cinematographic precision: the autumn leaves swirl on the wet asphalt as his car cuts through the woods on his way to the dilapidated farm with an eerily empty swing. The crows swoop as Larsen approaches a crime scene that will radically alter his retirement plans.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup.

The next chapter is shorter and more disturbing. It is the present, and a woman is being assaulted by a soft-voiced torturer. Next chapter and detective Naia Thulin is in bed with the lover she refuses to let move in with her. Like Sarah Lund in The Killing, Thulin is unconventional in her emotional relationships, although she displays rather more maternal instinct when it comes to her child.

Again like The Killing, which devoted 20 episodes to dealing with a single crime and the repercussions this had on a family as well as society at large, The Chestnut Man complicates what might at first appear to be a relatively straightforward serial-killer thriller.

Next we meet Thulin's new offsider, the mysterious Hess, who has been demoted from Interpol to work with the Danish police. Hess is a sad figure, unkempt and battered. What ensues, though, is a nicely judged working relationship without a skerrick of sexual attraction. The two come to appreciate each other's smarts.

Then we meet Rosa Hartung, the Minister for Social Affairs, who is returning to work one year after the abduction and murder of her daughter, whose body has never been found. Like Birgitte Nyborg in Borgen, Hartung is a career politician with a husband in the background who is suffering more than she knows.

And so The Chestnut Man proceeds, shifting focus between the characters and their related social worlds. As more murders come to light, what connects each of these crimes is not only the extreme nature of the assault, but also the figure made out of chestnuts and matchsticks found at each crime scene. Someone is leaving a message.

In many ways, The Chestnut Man is dated, harking back to the serial-killer era of crime fiction in the 1990s. It's also eerily familiar for anyone who has watched Scandinavian crime drama. This could be the sequel to The Killing we have all been waiting for. All it lacks is a thrumming soundtrack.

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