The Chestnut Man - Søren Sveistrup

I was a big fan of “The Killing” so when I heard about this book, onto the wish list it went. Did it live up to my expectations? You betcha. This Scandi crime/police procedural comes loaded with all the elements that will keep you reading into the wee hours. Two compelling MC’s, an intricate plot & a sinister bad guy…it ticks all the boxes. Set in Copenhagen, it’s the story of a current investigation with deep ties to the past delivered with a stealthy & rising sense of menace.


The first MC is Naia Thulin. She’s a young cop who is slowly dying of boredom as the newest member of the Major Crimes Division. Despite her intelligence & tech skills, she’s being wasted on the small stuff. Naia decides to ask for a transfer to Cyber Crimes but her boss has one last job for her. It seems they’ve been saddled with a Europol agent who was demoted back to Copenhagen. Her job is to babysit for a few days until he’s up to speed.


Mark Hess spent the last 5 years living a nomadic life with Europol. But a disagreement with higher-ups resulted in him being sent back to his old stomping grounds. He’s been paired with Thulin, a rather intense young woman, but making new friends is not a priority. Copenhagen holds too many bad memories & his sole focus is getting his job back. Then a body is found.


In alternate chapters we meet Rosa Hartung. She’s the government minister for social services who is returning to work after compassionate leave. A year ago her daughter Kristine disappeared & has never been found. The tragedy left it’s mark on her family & she needs to get back to some kind of normal.


Thulin & Hess take the call about a body & arrive to find a young nurse who’s been murdered. The area is carefully picked over but no leads are forthcoming. Until they get an odd call from the forensic crew. One of the items taken from the scene was a funny little doll made from chestnuts & matchsticks. A fingerprint was found on it & they have a match…..Kristina Hartung.


I’ll leave it at that for the plot. Suffice to say there are more bodies, each accompanied by a chestnut man. The book opens with a ominous prologue from 1989 so you know there’s more going on here than just the crimes in the present.


This is a great read for several reasons but two things stood out for me. First, don’t expect to be spoon fed. We learn things right along with the MC’s & I enjoyed being a third partner in the investigation. Some clever misdirection means you have more than one candidate for the killer & it keeps you guessing as a good thriller should.


Second, I really liked Thulin & Hess. These 2 characters are the heart & soul of the story. They have very different styles & it was interesting to watch them go from barely speaking to appreciating what the other brought to the table. Both are smart & capable of the intuitive thinking that puts it all together. The author purposely gives only sparse details about their pasts & you get the feeling there is so much more to learn about them. Maybe in book 2? (hint, hint)


So many procedurals rely on a character’s dumb decision to move the story along & it was a pleasure to read one that didn’t stoop to using this device. With a clever plot & intelligent characters, there was no need. As for the ending, just when you think you’ve made it safely to the other side….well, that would be telling. My reaction? “Oh, crap”.


A big bowl of shiny chestnuts to translator Caroline Waight. She does a stellar job of providing a seamless translation while maintaining a Scandinavian vibe that gives the book a real sense of place.