Permit me a bit of housekeeping here before we go any further, so that we’re not both tripping over things in the dark. You will find MUNSTER’S CASE subtitled “An Inspector Van Veeteren Mystery,” which means it is properly included in Hakan Nesser's popular series. However, the book is very much “Münster’s Case,” taking its name from Intendent Münster, Van Veeteren’s invaluable second in command. The two are part of a police force tasked with patrolling the fictitious city of Maardam, in an unnamed country that is all but certainly Sweden. The book was originally published in 1998 and was translated to English --- by Laurie Thompson, and wonderfully so --- in 2011. Some English translations have borne the title LUCKY LOTTERY, but this, the US version, is titled MUNSTER’S CASE.
That cleans that up. Now to the book itself, which is a dark, quirky little tale of ordinary murder that in turn is no less violent for its everyday passion.
"Those who are unfamiliar with Nesser’s fine police procedurals...could do far worse than to start with MUNSTER’S CASE, which balances sharp characterization and snappy dialogue with a truly puzzling mystery."
The events that become MUNSTER’S CASE begin with the news that a lottery ticket held by four friends is a winner. They are a group of elderly gentlemen, three of whom are lifelong friends, with the off-and-on contact that such relationships experience. They gather that evening to celebrate and then go their inebriated ways. One of them --- a crusty customer named Waldemar Leverkuhn --- is discovered dead in his bed a few hours later, the victim of a violent murder. Münster is assigned to the case; it seems to be a relatively straightforward matter of a falling-out among friends over the prize money, particularly when another of the quartet goes missing.
That theory goes out the window, however, when Waldemar’s widow, who originally reported the discovery of the body, makes a straightforward confession and surrenders to custody. Münster and his intriguing associate, Ewa Moreno, have closed the case, and there it stays, until a neighbor of the Leverkuhns goes missing as well. She eventually reappears, but when she does, she’s all over the city at once.
All of this must be connected in some way, but how can it be? That is the question that you will ask yourself as you read MUNSTER’S CASE. Münster is a solid and dependable investigator, competent without being a genius and tenacious without being overly obsessed. While he is passionate about his job, we learn almost immediately that he would rather be at home, looking out at the gray and forlorn day with his wife and children. Yet he hangs in there, and while he is devoted to his family, he is not above guiltily obsessing over his attraction toward Moreno, even as he is reluctant to act upon it.
Oh, and lest I forget… Nesser, through Münster, has a sense of humor, which occasionally and hilariously strays over the boundaries of political correctness. Those who are unfamiliar with Nesser’s fine police procedurals (a few of which have been translated, with more apparently to be done) could do far worse than to start with MUNSTER’S CASE, which balances sharp characterization and snappy dialogue with a truly puzzling mystery.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on December 14, 2012