The Unlucky Lottery by Hakan Nesser

Nesser, Hakan – ‘The Unlucky Lottery’ (translated by Laurie Thompson)
Hardback: 256 pages (Oct. 2011) Publisher: Mantle ISBN: 0230745725

The sixth in the “Van Veeteren” series finds the splenetic detective in early retirement from the police force and running an antiquarian bookshop. He is more of an off-page presence in this novel, however, as the main action concerns Munster, an introspective officer who in the absence of his old boss and of the clever Reinhardt on paternity leave, has to (in effect) lead the team when an old man is murdered in a violent but apparently motiveless crime.

As the book opens, we learn that four pensioners have won a great deal of money in the lottery. They go out to celebrate and one of them, Waldemar Leverkuhn, staggers home very late at night somewhat the worse for wear. When Leverkuhn’s wife returns from an evening with her friend some time later, she finds her husband has been repeatedly stabbed and is as dead as a doornail.

“Intendent” Munster follows up the case, organising the usual neighbour interviews. He soon comes to learn about the lottery win, which two of the group are keen to play down or even hide. Could the murder have been motivated by money even though the winning ticket has not yet been cashed? The fourth member of the syndicate lives on a houseboat, but has vanished, so the stretched team also have to search for him in case his absence is related to the murder case.

Munster and his colleagues investigate all leads but, as is usual in a Nesser novel, get nowhere – though this reader was mentally urging the detectives to question a couple of people they seemed to have forgotten about! Munster even calls on his old mentor, Van Veeteren, to help out, but he does not provide any practical advice, preferring to talk in vision-inspired riddles. Munster is an introspective soul, torn between his wife and a female colleague and not very self-confident. He’s pretty dogged about the investigation, though, and towards the end of the book embarks on a journey towards an end-game involving an investigation into the family’s past that turns out to be very dangerous (the Swedish title of the book is literally translated as “Munster’s Fall”).

THE UNLUCKY LOTTERY is a good solid read, perhaps as usual with this series slightly dated by the 10 years that have elapsed between original and English-language publication. Nevertheless, the book stands the test of time very well and is superior crime-fiction; readers should enjoy the two big McGuffins at the heart of the plot, as well as the (slightly predictable) twist in the tail. And of course they will doubtless be laughing at the trademark bleak humour that permeates the book throughout, as the hard-pressed police team attempts to hold cold reality at bay.

Review first published at Euro Crime, November 2011.

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