Book review: A Summer with Kim Novak, by Håkan Nesser

2 09 2017

Håkan Nesser is a Swedish crime author best known for his Inspector Van Veeteren series of murder mysteries, set in the fictitious Northern European city of Maardam. His work has won the Best Swedish Crime Novel award three times; I’ve previously reviewed his Glass Key award-winning novel Hour of the Wolf here.

ASummerWithKimNovak

A Summer with Kim Novak (Kim Novak badade aldrig i Genesarets sjö, 1998, translated by Saskia Vogel) is narrated by fourteen-year-old Erik Wassman, an introspective boy whose mother is dying of cancer. Erik is sent, for the 1962 summer holidays, to stay with his older brother Henry, a reporter with the local newspaper, at a lakeside summer cottage owned by his mother’s family. Erik’s accompanied by a schoolfriend, Edmund. The ‘Kim Novak’ lookalike of the title is one Ewa Kaludis, a relief teacher at Erik’s and Edmund’s school and the fiancée of hot-tempered handball star Bertil Albertsson (‘Super-Berra’). When ladies’ man Henry gets involved with Ewa, it’s plain even to Erik that all is not going to end well …

This coming-of-age tale, reminiscent in some respects of Ronald Hugh Morrieson’s The Scarecrow, is rather different to Nesser’s other work, but nonetheless showcases his ability with slowly-unfolding menace and dashes of situational humour (provided largely by the viewpoint of Erik, who is such a sponge for adult platitudes that in his fourteen years he has accrued one for every occasion). The crime at the book’s core is carefully framed, the investigation is reported in a secondhand (and not highly detailed) fashion by Erik, who’s more concerned with extracting as much enjoyment as possible from the summer, by way of excursions with Edmund (whether by bike or rowboat), reading, and fantasising about girls—the glamorous and worldly Ewa foremost among the latter.

This is an unassuming but very enjoyable piece of Swedish crime fiction. It’s slow to start, but digs very successfully into the not-always-edifying mind of a fourteen year old and manages, despite its protagonist’s limitations, to seem at times profound.

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