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The Root of Evil

The Root of Evil

Håkan Nesser
ARRSE Rating
3.5 Mushroom Heads
The Root of Evil’ is an enjoyable crime novel by the acclaimed Swedish writer Håkan Nesser, translated into the English by Sarah Death. It is the second of the Inspector Barbarotti books to be translated into English, the first being ‘The Darkest Day’. It was originally published in 2007 in Sweden, which accounts for the not quite contemporary timing of the story.

The story begins with a diary entry from 2002, written in France by an unknown narrator. It is soon evident that the writer has some problems pertaining to their mental health as they fantasise about killing their dinner companions, fellow Swedes they have met on holiday. He alludes to the death of his wife (the reason for which remains unexplained) and sessions with an unnamed doctor (Dr. L), who it may be assumed is a psychiatrist. The same narrator now offers a present day (2007 in the book) reflection on this diary entry. In a pattern repeated several times throughout the novel, the scene then shifts to Inspector Barbarotti, who is looking forward to his annual leave in Gotland with his long distance partner, Marianne. His plans come to nothing however when he opens his mail, handed to him by the postman as he left the house for his holidays, to find a note taunting him about a murder that is about to happen, and challenging him to prevent it. Several more letters (and killings) follow, with more diary extracts from the assumed killer, before the case comes to its conclusion. The police make slow progress with next to nothing to go on, which makes the final dénouement a bit of a surprise. I am in two minds as to how I feel about the last few chapters and the relative speed in which the case is wrapped up, hence the 3.5 stars.

Håkan Nesser is responsible for the extremely popular ‘Inspector Van Veeteren’ series of novels, and in Gunnar Barbarotti has created a distinctive character with enough quirks to be interesting but believable. Like many fictional detectives, Barbarotti has a far from straight-forward private life: an estranged wife and sons in Denmark, a daughter who has moved to England and seems to be drifting away from him, and his aforementioned long distance relationship. The minor characters in the book receive a lot less attention, and as such the reader does not really get to know them, with only perhaps DI Eva Blackman more fleshed out than the others.

All in all an entertaining read despite the somewhat frustrating ending, which will appeal to fans of the Scandi-noir genre. With another 3 Inspector Barbarotti novels yet to be translated, hopefully not the last English fans of Nesser’s work will have to follow the Swedish Italian Inspector in his pursuit of a killer.
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