- The Secret Life of Mr Roos, by Hakan Nesser. Mantle. $32.99.
Hakan Nesser is a distinguished Swedish crime writer who has won the Best Swedish Crime Novel Award three times, as well as the prestigious Scandinavian Glass Key Award in 2000. In 2019, he was presented with H. M. The King's Medal for his work as an author.
The Secret Life of Mr Roos, Nesser's third novel featuring Inspector Gunnar Barbarrotti, is in fact two novels in one, linked by a murder.
Part One is the story of Ante Valdemar Roos, 59 years old, "dreary, withdrawn, uncomfortable in social settings and not much liked. A slow, dull and predictable fellow who never raised anyone's spirits and from whom no one expected anything extra or surprising."
He rarely talks to his wife, Alice, his stepdaughters treat him with disdain and he has worked as an accountant in the same factory for the past 28 years.
Every week, Valdemar does the pools, using the same line of numbers as his father had and then "as the world went on as usual, as innumerable winds blew from all corners and nothing or everything happened or didn't, the miracle ticked into life". Valdemar wins two million kronor.
He doesn't tell his wife, sets up a new bank account, resigns from the factory and begins his dream existence by buying Lograna, a remote cottage in the woods within easy driving distance from town. All he wants for his "remaining years" is "to sit on a chair outside my house in the forest and look about me. Maybe take a walk now and then."
At the same time, 21-year-old Anna Gambowska has entered rehab for her drug addiction at Elvafors House. She is determined to turn her life around to prove she is worthy of her mother's love, while hiding from her abusive drug dealing boyfriend, Steffo.
But a week later, Anna decides to run away and, after a dangerous encounter hitchhiking, takes refuge in Lograna, believing it to be uninhabited. Valdemar's life will never be the same again.
Part Two begins with Inspector Barbarotti falling off his roof and, while in hospital, Alice Roos asks for his help to find her husband who has disappeared. Although initially dismissive, when Valdemar Roos' secret life is revealed and a dead body is found at Lograna, Barbarotti becomes obsessed with discovering the truth of what happened in the forest.
The bittersweet humour of Part One is reminiscent of Fredrick Backman's A Man Called Ove but the novel turns darker in the police procedural of Part Two.
Entertaining and disturbing in equal parts, The Secret Life of Mr Roos is Nordic Noir at its best.