commissaire inspector dottore
a bibliography of detective-inspector novels
lotte & søren hammer
the konrad simonsen seriesSvinehunde. København: Gyldendal, 2010.
∴ Svívirða. Translated by Ásdís Guðnadóttir. Reykjavík: Bjartur, 2010.
∴ La bestia dentro. Translated by Anna Grazia Calabrese. Milano: Kowalski, 2010.
∴ Schweinehunde. Translated by Günther Frauenlob. München: Droemer, 2011.
∴ Morte la bête. Translated by Andreas Saint-Bonnet. Paris: Actes Sud, 2011.
∴ El lado oscuro. Translated by Rodrigo Crespo. Barcelona: Roca, 2011.
∴ Svinen. Translated by Lars Ahlström. Stockholm: Bazar, 2012.
∴ The Hanging. Translated by Ebba Segerberg. New York: Minotaur [St. Martin's], 2013.
Alting har sin pris. København: Gyldendal, 2010.
∴ Le prix à payer. Translated by Michèle Lamothe Nielsen. Arles: Actes Sud, 2012.
∴ Wszystko ma swoja cene. Translated by Elzbieta Fratczak-Nowotny. Wolowiec: Czarne, 2012.
∴ Das weiße Grab. Translated by Günther Frauenlob. München: Droemer, 2013.
∴ Todo tiene su precio. Translated by Rodrigo Crespo. Barcelona: Roca, 2013.
∴ Allting har sitt pris. Translated by Lars Ahlström. Stockholm: Bazar, 2013.
∴ The Girl in the Ice. Translated by Paul Norlen. New York: Bloomsbury, 2015.
Ensomme hjerters klub. København: Gyldendal, 2011.
∴ Le cercle des cœurs solitaires. Translated by Michèle Lamothe Nielsen. Arles: Actes Sud, 2013.
∴ Il postino. Translated by Anna Grazia Calabrese. Milano: Feltrinelli, 2013.
∴ Ensamma hjärtans klubb. Translated by Mia Ruthman. Stockholm: Bazar, 2014.
∴ Einsame Herzen. Translated by Maike Dörries. München: Knaur, 2015.
∴ The Vanished. Translated by Martin Aitken. New York: Bloomsbury, 2016.
Pigen i satans mose. København: Gyldendal, 2012.
∴ The Lake. Translated by Charlotte Barslund. New York: Bloomsbury, 2017.
∴ Totenmoor. Translated by Maike Dörries & Günther Frauenlob. München: Knaur, 2017.
∴ La fille dans la marais de Satan. Translated by Frédéric Fourreau. Arles: Actes Sud, 2018.
Den sindssyge polak. København: Gyldendal, 2014.
∴ The Night Ferry. Translated by Charlotte Barslund. New York: Bloomsbury, 2018.
Elskede Heidi. København: Gyldendal, 2015.
Mørkemanden. København: Gyldendal, 2016.
To små piger. København: Gyldendal, 2017.
Mirakelbarnet. København: Gyldendal, 2018.
There's a lot going in in Svinehunde, by Lotte and Søren Hammer (called The Hanging in Ebba Segerberg's English translation). A police investigation that spans the breadth of Denmark and reaches into Sweden and Germany; a massive grassroots resistance to that investigation; a widespread social problem foregrounded by the investigation; mass murders; sex, sexism, and sexual harassment in workplaces; hidebound bureaucracies; a rapacious fourth estate; the higher mathematics.
There's frankly too much going on for a 300-page Krimi, and not enough for the Great Danish Novel. But one of the things I appreciate about the detective-inspector genre is the way it expands to swallow huge subjects and themes, like a snake disarticulating its jaws.
Inspector Konrad Simonsen is our focal character, though chapters are presented from a very wide range of points of view. His team consists of men and women under stress, with notably complicated interpersonal dynamics. Simonsen answers to a complicated and divisive chain of command, and has brought in his own mentor, retired inspector Kasper Planck, to help on the case – which only makes life more difficult for everybody, as Planck is a born intriguer who sets various ill-advised plots in motion.
The case is shrecklich, as the Germans say. Five men have been hanged from the ceiling of a school gymnasium (and left there to be found by the kids the next morning). They're not just hanged, but also horribly mutilated with chainsaws. A few days later, a sixth man is killed in his hotdog stand: beaten to a pulp, decapitated with an axe, and then crushed by a felled beech tree for good measure.
And the Danish populace heartily approves. It comes to light that the six men were pedophiles and child pornographers. Nobody has much sympathy with the victims, and quite a few people want their killers to escape justice. The killers themselves (we see them all along), a considerable but tight-knit group of conspirators, orchestrate a PR campaign (via Internet anonymity) to drum up support for their cause. They insist that pedophiles get off easy in Denmark, and they want to see at least "half a USA" (269) become law in Denmark: penalties for sexual abuse of children even half of those meted out in America.
It's always hard to know in a topical, politicized detective novel whether the issues are presented for genuine ideological debate or used "merely" as sensational backdrop. Perhaps both. I do not know if there is a pedophilia crisis in Denmark, or whether molestation of children and trafficking in their images is treated leniently there compared to the United States. It does not seem to be a hot issue; rather, The Hanging imagines how it could become a hot issue in the context of a criminal investigation.
Anger and anxiety flare on all sides. The public is at a boil over stranger danger, and sympathize with the killers. Konrad Simonsen is initially outraged at the public's sypport for vigilante justice. But when the killers send him photographs of his own daughter, in a we-know-where-you-live kind of insinuation, he becomes ready to bend the rules in the other direction. To catch their thieves, the Danish police put out a phony rumor that the killings were motivated by greed rather than revenge. To disseminate it, they mislead the press, tap a journalist's phone, and commandeer newspaper computers. When one of the suspects falls into his hands, Simonsen inflicts psychological torture on him till he breaks. "Merely" psychological, mind you, but of the sort where the villain would definitely have preferred getting slapped around.
Perhaps this is how punishment gets meted out in America – at least in the hard-boiled American crime novel as opposed to the cool Scandinavian procedural. Is there a juridical way to punish crimes so horrific, crimes that horrifically avenge other horrible crimes?
The Hammers' police team is more of a family than most, and the crimes they investigate mix family and sex even as the detectives in his unit enmesh themselves in sexual and familial ways. The book starts with the vacationing Simonsen squabbling mildly with his once-estranged daughter Anna Mia over the terms on which they've taken their holiday cottage. It's a special deal arranged by Nathalie, Simonsen's senior assistant, who is called "The Countess" because perhaps she is one (it's not clear to the reader). The Countess, who seems to be Anna Mia's best buddy, has a crush on Simonsen. He reciprocates to some extent (late in the novel they go on a very opaquely-described date), though he's no better in touch with his emotions than the next Scandinavian detective inspector. Detective Pauline Berg is having an affair with her married colleague Arne Pedersen. The elder statesman Planck is like everybody's nosy grandfather.
In such a workplace, the boundaries between the professional and the personal are nearly nil. All the less reason to expect our heroes to separate personal from professional motivations when they are pursuing especially personal, vengeful criminals.
In their (figuratively) incestuous behavior, the detectives of Simonsen's team don't resemble Martin Beck's CID in the series by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Yet in literary terms, The Hanging echoes the prose style and tone of those Swedish masterpieces very closely. The style is clipped, the tone allusive, the exposition underdone (all qualities I find attractive; YMMV). One paragraph in particular seems both to epitomize these stylistic and tonal qualities, and to give a nod to the Swedish tradition as it does so:
Arne Pedersen had been in Malmö. The trip itself turned out to be unnecessary since the Swedish police commissioner—who was contacted by telephone at Simonsen's request—could easily have managed the matter on his own. The Swedish police were extremely effective and gave high priority to the matter but no one had thought to involve Pedersen on the simple grounds that he was not needed, so he'd spent three interesting hours at Malmöhus Castle, where the city museum was located. Back at the police station in Kirseberg he received two reports, one in Swedish and one in English. Five closely written pages constituted a shining example of effective Nordic collaboration if one ignored the fact that the Swedes had done the whole thing. (91)
In a novel about tracking a serial killer, it's better than even money that the serial killer will turn and start stalking the detective. So it is with Lotte and Søren Hammer's Alting har sin pris, published in Paul Norlen's English as The Girl in the Ice.
Serial-killer fictions could seem by 2010 not to offer any new breadth of treatment, though The Girl in the Ice certainly tries. It's not every Krimi that opens with Angela Merkel discovering the crime scene while flying in a helicopter over the Greenland ice cap. Cold War machinations and their aftermath hover over Chief Inspector Konrad Simonsen's investigation. There's also the wrinkle of the Greenland corpse alerting Simonsen to the fact that he'd solved a long-closed case back in Denmark incorrectly – meaning that there's an uncaught killer with at least two women's murders to his grisly credit, and more possibly undetected or on the way.
But the Hammers really go in for depth of treatment of their theme, making the killer, Andreas Falkenborg, an especially chilling and sick man, and extending scenes of torture and degradation almost to the limits a reader can bear. Of course readers do not come to thrillers unwarned, and a confrontation with (imaginary, vicarious) evil is part of the experience. But it seems that readers can also become inured to mere serial killing, and need a constantly increased dose to activate their appreciation.
Though I wonder if the dosage metaphor really works. It's handy, but it may obscure the seriousness and complexity of a given fiction. Novels like The Girl in the Ice, when they are successful (and I think it is very good of its type), offer a kind of meditation on evil: its sources, its effects on its victims, its potential for redemption. Andreas Falkenborg may be overdrawn for effect, but literature works that way. He represents ideas and theories about human evil now in circulation, and he certainly does so in a way that gets your attention.
(Revealing the name of the killer barely counts as a spoiler, by the way: Simonsen knows early on that he's trying to catch Falkenborg; the question will be how, and how much damage he can do in the meantime.)
Falkenborg is not bad by essential nature; he has been warped by a sinister family of origin, and the warping twisted still further by a particularly perverse fellow victim of that family. In many ways this attribution of criminality seems old-fashioned – a little Freudian, a little postwar-liberal (in the American sense), a little shy of more contemporary explanations, genetic or environmental (in the physical sense). The killer passes along abuse – is that a trite explanation?
The Hammers give us a villain as piecer-together of influences. A tic here, an obsession there, some from his parents, some from early experience, and soon we have the MO of a madman. Yet at some point too, crucially, the killer's empathy switches off. No matter how this happens, it seems to be biologically engraved, no longer amenable to human contact. As a result, he deprives women of their freedom, and then of their lives.
A long scene in the middle of the novel presents us with a profiler who finds Falkenborg anomalous. He doesn't kill for excitement or dominance; he's not a hedonist. He doesn't fit a bunch of niche categories, and there's no easy label for him in diagnostic manuals. Perhaps the fact that his evil is unique, and intensely personal (though wreaked on pure strangers), is what makes the scenes of violence in The Girl in the Ice so hard to shake.
Meanwhile, as usual, the office is the scene of relationships begun and ended, illnesses coped with, anxieties worked through. And in the thrilling climactic chapters, the team must come together to save one of its own. More focused than Svinehunde (The Hanging), The Girl in the Ice shows a strong development in the Hammers' work (which at this point has grown to several more volumes in Danish that have not yet reached languages I can read).