Source: Review copy
Publication: Michael Joseph on 10 January 2019
One blustery October morning in a quiet Copenhagen suburb, the police make a terrible discovery. A young woman is found brutally murdered with one ofher hands missing. Above her hangs a small doll made of chestnuts.
Ambitious young detective Naia Thulin is assigned the case. Herpartner, Mark Hess, is a burned-out investigator who’s just been kicked out of Europol. They soon discover a mysterious piece of evidence on the chestnut man – evidence connecting it to a girl who went missing a year earlier and is presumed dead; the daughter of politician Rosa Hartung. The man who confessed to her murder is behind bars and the case long since closed.
Soon afterwards, a second woman is found murdered, along with another chestnut man. Thulin and Hess suspect that there’s a connection between the Hartung case and the murdered women. But what is it?
Thulin and Hess are racing against the clock, because it’s clear that the killer is on a mission that is far from over . . .
As you might imagine, when offered the opportunity to read the debut novel by the author who both wrote and created the immensely successful TV show, The Killing, I practically bit Jenny Platt’s hand off.
And I am so pleased I did. The Chestnut Man is a big, bold and fabulous read. Set in Copenhagen it is wonderfully atmospheric and takes us from high priced homes and apartments to the more downtrodden immigrant areas and into the forests and cabins of Denmark.
Our detective duo is not an obviously well matched pair. Naia Thulin is a young, bright investigator, clearly destined for great things and already getting bored with her role after only nine months at the Major Crimes Division. A single mother, Thulin has no issues with handling her work and her social and family life, though she doesn’t let anyone get too close.
Mark Hess has been sent back from Europol in The Hague to Copenhagen and the Major Crimes Squad in some disgrace, though no-one seems to know exactly what he has done. He’s viewing it as a temporary setback and intends to spend his time making sure he gets back to Europol, where until recently, no-one really looked too hard at what he was doing or why, which suited Hess down to the ground.
The case they are assigned is that of a young single mother who has been found brutally murdered with one of her hands missing at her house in the suburbs . Above her tortured and mutilated body, near the child’s playhouse, hangs a small figure made of chestnuts and twigs. Soon there will be more murders, and the killer’s signature is present at each one, together with cruel amputations on the tortured bodies made pre-mortem.
Rosa Hartung is the Minister for Social Justice in the current Government, but she’s been on an extended absence since her 12 year old daughter Kristine disappeared, presumed murdered. The police caught the perpetrator,Linus Bekker, a mentally ill young man, who confessed to her killing, but was unable to tell the police where he buried the various parts of her dismembered corpse.
Not surprisingly, the family have had a traumatic time trying to get over the loss of their daughter and neither Rosa nor her husband,Steen are the people they once were. Nonetheless, Rosa is preparing to get back to work after her year of absence and Steen is trying his best to move things on but needs the help of quite a few miniatures throughout the day just to get through.
When forensics discover a lead to Kristine at the first murder scene, Thulin and Hess are hard pressed to figure out what connection this murder may have to Rosa and her family.
In a beautifully plotted story arc that examines family life, working relationships and the intensity of police procedures, Sveistrup creates an epic picture of what happens when a murder is committed as well as creating a chilling and savage scenario in which multiple killings are carried out.
How these killings are related and whether the police will get to the truth is always in doubt and the political machinations around an understaffed police system have their own part to play in the success or failure of Thulin and Hess’s chilling and dangerous task.
Sveistrup paces his book well. Sometimes progress is achingly slow yet the book is is still pacy; Tullin and Hess have to pursue a number of seemingly useless leads (when Hess can be bothered to turn up) and sometimes they look at each other in amazement when something they previously missed becomes blindingly obvious.
I loved the storytelling and the relationship dynamics as well as the wide sweep of this intricate and creepy novel. This is class plotting by a master storyteller with enough heart stopping and chilling moments to ensure that the reader’s adrenaline is running on high and the reader is thoroughly steeped in the danger and alert to the many plot twists.
If you loved The Killing, you’re going to love this. All the elements are there, just in story form rather than images and a script.
Verdict: I loved it and The Chestnut Man shoots straight onto my must read list for 2019.
Søren Sveistrup (born 1968) is an internationally acclaimed scriptwriter of the Danish television phenomenon The Killing which won various international awards and sold in more than a hundred countries.
He holds a master of Literature and History from the University of Copenhagen and has graduated as script writer from the Danish Film School.