Barry Forshaw writes: Rhodesian ridgebacks are a breed of dog I always associate with leading Scandinavian crime writer Håkan Nesser, whose The Root of Evil is published this month by Mantle in a translation by the much-respected Sarah Death. I have a surreal memory of wandering the streets of town Scarborough with Nesser and his wife Elke, after an event I’d done with him (pictured), trying to find the one hotel that had agreed to accept their gargantuan dog. Walking past the closed fish and chip shops of an English seaside town with one of Sweden’s key novelists was… unusual, to say the least. I reminded him of this when asking about The Root of Evil.
‘Since the book was awarded Best Crime Novel of the year in Sweden in 2007,’ he told me, ‘and has been my bestselling novel ever in Germany, there are probably worse books around. I recall that my two most critical readers worldwide, my son and my daughter, were both impressed. And none of them saw the twist at the end coming!’
It was a logical step after my brief chat with Nesser to ask his translator Sarah Death for her views, which follow…
‘The Root of Evil, the second of the Inspector Barbarotti novels, is a page-turner set partly in mainland Sweden, partly in summer-holiday Brittany and partly on the Swedes’ own summer paradise, the island of Gotland. But the sensitivity is always very Swedish, which may come as a surprise to loyal readers of Håkan Nesser’s Van Veeteren series with its pseudo-Dutch, diffusely European settings.
The Root of Evil’s interweaving of different timelines and fiendishly ingenious plotting makes it the sort of book you want to go right back and read again as soon as you get to the end. As a translator that’s exactly what I get to do, of course, and in minute detail, a privilege that helped me pick up some of the clues, but by no means all!
Over the summer I had my arm twisted to shoehorn into my schedule a sample from the novel Håkan is about to publish back home in Sweden, De västerhäntas förening (‘The Lefthander’s League’). It is the book his many German fans have long been clamouring for, which opens with Van Veeteren playing chess in his local and queasily anticipating his seventy-fifth birthday, but ultimately contrives to team him up with DI Barbarotti. The next Nesser job on my desk, though, is Barbarotti 3, Berättelsen om Herr Roos (working title: The Story of Mr Roos), a bold, intelligent and very human novel which I shall relish bringing into English. Not only does it share with Barbarotti 1 (The Darkest Day) a distinct lack of cops for a large chunk of the action, it also lacks a crime for almost as long, yet its plot and characters still kept me thoroughly engrossed.
The Root of Evil is published by Mantle