Translated by Laurie Thompson.
The fifth of Nesser's series of ten books featuring Chief Inspector Van Veeteren finds the Inspector brooding on his desire for retirement from the police force, increasingly depressed and disillusioned by his involvement with murderers and other criminals. He plans a holiday to Crete, where he envisages meeting a "nice, normal" woman after his failed marriage and his bitter (but only briefly sketched) feelings about his children. He is tempted by an offer of partnership in the window of the local bookseller, and imagines a cosy retirement playing chess and listening to music.
The reality, inevitably, is somewhat different as Van Veeteren receives a call from a neighbouring region. A woman has phoned the police to say a girl has been murdered, yet no victim has been found. He decides to go and help, figuring that in the two weeks between now and his holiday, he can solve the case. Of course, things aren't that simple. Here, the complexity is one of frustration. The missing girl is one of a group of 12 who are vacationing in a religious summer school. The Pure Life is a sect run by a charismatic but sinister man, aided by three women. The problem that the police face is that nobody will speak to them, apart from to deny that any girl is missing.
The police receive another warning, and indeed find the body of a girl. Van Veeteren is plunged into more gloom and distaste by this discovery. He hates the sect and its leader, Oscar Yellineck, yet cannot persuade any of the participants to talk to him. After experiencing enough village life to last him a lifetime, he departs on a trip to find out what he can about the history of the adult members of the sect, in the hope that a tangible clue will emerge.
The novel vividly depicts the frustration that the detectives feel about the lack of progress on the case, as well as a sense of distaste and despair at the way in which the young girls have been brainwashed by the sect as well as abandoned, pretty much, by their parents. One senses that the author is partly playing with the theme of the silent witnesses, seeing how far he can push it, so that in the end when the breakthrough occurs, the sense of relief at some progress is only slightly tempered by the fact that the culprits are both fairly obvious and have earlier provided a glaring clue that is missed by the investigators.
As ever, the book is full of an older man's musings on his failures in life; frustrations with the modern, superficial world; and his enjoyment of the simple pleasures of food, books and music – all ably conveyed by the experienced and mature translator, Laurie Thompson. Van Veeteren is so keen to retire into a more palatable profession that one wonders how the author is going to see him through five more books, but I am very glad that he will do so.
Review first published at Euro Crime, August 2010.