WOMAN WITH BIRTHMARK is the fourth of Harkan Nesser’s books to be translated into English. It opens in a cemetery a few days before Christmas. A woman, the lone mourner, stands at the side of a grave as her mother is being buried. In the last days before her death, her mother had urged, “Don’t cry….don’t stand there bawling at my funeral….No, do something, my girl! Take action!. Do something magnificent that I can applaud up there in heaven!”
Ryszard Malik has been receiving strange phone calls. Someone has been calling and playing an old song from the sixties; the caller never says a word. One night, in the middle of January, his wife returns to find his body sprawled in the entry. He had been shot four times, twice in the heart and twice below the belt. There are no clues, no suspects, and no indication of a motive.
Van Veeteren and his team go through the motions but there is nothing in Malik’s background to suggest that someone would want him dead. It seems a clear “no solve” until another man is murdered. Rickard Maasleitner was found shot to death, two bullets in the chest and two bullets below the belt. He, too, had received phone calls in which there was played a song that he vaguely remembered from the 1960’s.
The story opens fully when the team discover the connection between the men and a detective’s partner suggests something about the killer that Van Veeteren may well have missed.
The title tells the tale.
This is a tightly written story, the best, I think, of Nesser’s books. Van Veeteren is more upbeat and less self-involved than he seemed to be in the previous books. It is a book that begs to be read at one go.