Håkan Nesser

The Root of Evil

Inspector Barbarotti #2.

Jun 24, 2020
Dimitris Passas

Crime fiction fans around the world became acquainted with Håkan Nesser's work through the fabulous Inspector Van Veeteren series that won the readers' hearts and also was adapted for the television with Sven Wollter in the role of the brooding police investigator. Nevertheless, not many people are aware of the existence of another crime novel series, that of Inspector Gunnar Barbarotti. This is mainly due to the fact that, until now, only the first two books have been translated in English, the first one being The Darkest Day, a novel written by the Swedish author in 2006 and translated in English eleven years later. The same happened with the second book in the series, The Root of Evil, that was first published in Sweden in 2007 and was translated in English in 2018. In total there are five books in the Barbarotti series and I sincerely hope that we will soon be able to read the other three novels in a decent translation. Nesser is an author known for his special writing style which attributes a unique literary touch to all of his work. Apart from that, Nesser is known for the creation of the famous fictitious city of Mardaam, featuring in all Van Veeteren books, and also in his recent novel Intrigo. In the Barbarotti series though, we are introduced to another purely fictional town, that of Kymlinge, located somewhere in Sweden.

DI Gunnar Barbarotti is a character equally fascinating to that of Van Veeteren and they share many common characteristics. Barbarotti is a bit younger, in his mid-forties, divorced and father of three children that he doesn't see much as his two sons are living in Denmark with his ex-wife and his beloved daughter is away in London for studies. He is entangled in a romantic relationship with Marianne and he is determined to rebuild his erotic life with her. He also has a special, almost mystical, relationship with God with whom he plays a particular game: "He had a so-called deal with Our Lord, in which Our Lord had to show his existence by heeding at least a reasonable proportion of the prayers his humble servant, Detective Inspector Barbarotti, sent up to him. Then points were awarded: plus points for Our Lord if Barbarotti's prayers were answered, minus if they were not" (p.48). Barbarotti is a rather thinking individual and his observations on the various aspects of human life are irresistibly captivating and hilarious at the same time.

The book begins with Gunnar and Marianne traveling to Gotland for their summer vacations but when Barbarotti opens his mail, taken from his apartment in Kymlinge, he realizes that he should head back to the city as one rather disturbed person is announcing to him that he is gonna murder a man named Erik Bergman. In this short letter, he also challenges the detective to try and stop him. Gunnar immediately contacts his colleagues and soon he is forced to abandon Gotland and Marianne when the body of Erik Bergman is found. He is puzzled with a number of unanswered questions: why is the murderer warning the police for his imminent killings? why is he specifically choosing to address Barbarotti? is it perhaps someone he knows or knew in the past? Soon the detective will receive another epistle announcing a second murder, so he is convinced that they have to do with a serial killer.

All these questions will find their resolution in the final part of the book, but the reader should be patient as The Root of Evil is a rather long novel of around 600 pages. In genre's terms, it is a typical police procedural where the reader is thrown into the everyday workings of a homicide investigation which may sometimes feel repetitive or even plain boring. But what is more important in the novel is the author's prose and Nesser is a guarantee for a text of high literary quality. So the reader has just to sit back and indulge in the Swedish author's words which are chosen meticulously. It should also be noted that the translation by Sarah Death is a splendid one and truly does justice to the original. If you love Nordic crime fiction and generally prefer a rich dense text to a complicated mystery, then this is the book for you.

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The Root of Evil
Inspector Barbarotti #2
Håkan Nesser

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