Creator of The Killing's debut novel a macabre must for fans of Nordic noir

The Chestnut Man is must-read for crime-thriller freaks, especially those who love the raw, icy-coldness and bloodiness of Nordic noir, writes Gabriella Bekes

26 March 2019 - 12:34 By Gabriella Bekes

Published in the Sunday Times (24/03/2019)

Søren Sveistrup's The Chestnut Man has all the ingredients of Nordic noir's finest: bleak and bloody. A teenage girl is found dead at the breakfast table. She has been shot in the face, the remains of which is now floating in a bowl of porridge. Opposite is her brother with a gaping hole in his chest. Their mother is lying in an bloody, overflowing bath, her head split open by an axe. One of her arms and both legs are severed from her body.

And that's just chapter one.

This is the first novel from Sveistrup, who is the creator of the acclaimed Danish television series The Killing. Like the show, it's compelling, with a complex plot that drips with gore and adrenaline.

Young Copenhagen detective Naia Thulin is paired with world-weary cop Mark Hess, who has been seconded home from Interpol to investigate the murder of a young mother who had her hand amputated before being battered to death.

This is soon followed by the murder of another young mother of two girls, this time with two hands chopped off. Both women have been anonymously accused of abusing their children.

Found at the scene of the murders are little chestnut men with matchstick arms and legs. The investigation - hampered by the head of major crimes who resents Hess and is wary of Thulin - leads the pair to the Minister of Social Affairs, Rosa Hartung, whose daughter, Kristine, went missing a year before.

Kristine's fingerprint is found on the chestnut men planted near the bodies. Problem is, a man is in jail after confessing to Kristine's murder - although her body was never found.

Seeing a pattern, the detectives try to identify the next potential victim. But the killer outwits them and another mother's body is found strung up in a tree, missing a leg and two arms. It's now a race against time to stop the murderer.

Critics have said The Chestnut Man is firmly set in the tradition of Stieg Larsson's Millennium series, but it's much closer to Norwegian Jo Nesbo's work, with Hess comparable to the burnt-out cynical Harry Hole. Also, Sveistrup wrote the screenplay for Nesbo's 2017 film The Snowman.

The Chestnut Man is must-read for crime-thriller freaks, especially those who love the raw, icy-coldness and bloodiness of Nordic noir.

We are giving away two signed copies of The Chestnut Man. To enter, name the TV show Sveistrup created. E-mail your answer, name and contact number to lifestyle@ sundaytimes.co.za with CHESTNUT as the subject. Only one entry per person. Competition closes on Friday March 29. Ts & Cs apply.

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