I found deciding on one book to recommend to dear Maxine a difficult task, but after several weeks prevarication I have selected The G File by Hakan Nesser translated from the Swedish by Laurie Thompson. The G File is a very long book weighing in at 601 pages in my hardback version, but that wouldn’t have put off Maxine, she was a lady who read Trollope for relaxation; Anthony [1815-1882] not Joanna [1943-].
Hakan Nesser is an author who creates memorable characters and manages to include in his dark plots about violent acts a smattering of wit and humour. I feel that if one likes an author it improves your enjoyment of his or her books. Maxine and I were lucky enough to meet and chat with the charming Hakan at CrimeFest 2009 in Bristol, so I am fairly certain that she would have devoured The G File with the same enthusiasm as I did.
The G File is the tenth and last book in the Van Veeteren series, one of the few detective series I have read in the correct order. The story begins back in 1987 when private detective Maarten Verlangen, a drunken ex-policeman struggling to survive financially is hired by a beautiful American woman, Barbara Hennan, to follow her husband and report on his activities. She gives him no idea of her reasons, but Verlangen knows her husband Jaan G. Hennan from his time in the police.
Trustor had wanted a sort of detective who could investigate irregularities using somewhat unorthodox methods- and what could possibly be more appropriate in the circumstances than a police officer who had been sacked-or rather, ‘had chosen to leave the force rather than be hanged in a public place. A gentlemen’s agreement.
The pathetic failure Verlangen is contrasted from the start with the successful Jaan G Hennan, who seems to have it all.
And ten times more desirable. No, not ten times. Ten thousand times. Why on earth would anybody want to be unfaithful if they had a woman like Barbara? Incomprehensible.
A dozen years previously when Verlangen had been a functioning policeman he had been one of the team who had put Jaan G Hennan in prison for two years six months for drug dealing.
Verlangen spends his time drinking and watching Jaan G. Hennan and when instructed by Barbara not to let him out of his sight one evening he follows him to the Columbine restaurant, and they both have a meal. Jaan G. Hennan joins a shocked Verlangen at his table, introduces himself and they drink together, Verlangen getting very drunk. And as Henman drops him off at his hotel he thinks….
On the whole Hennan had behaved reasonably , and the reason his wife wanted him to be kept under observation was more enveloped in mystery than ever.
When Jaan G. Hennan returns home he discovers that his wife Barbara has fallen from the high diving board into their swimming pool which happens to be empty. Murder, manslaughter, accident? Chief Inspector Van Veeteren, who also knows Jaan G Hennan from their schooldays is convinced that G was behind his wife’s death, but G has Verlangen and others as a cast iron alibi.
G is a man with a very dark past, he was the school bully and his casual brutality lead to the suicide of another pupil. A few years later G had treated a girl friend of Van Veeteren very badly. Van Veeteren had persistent feelings of guilt for not standing up to G at school.
When further investigations of the Hennan’s finances reveal a large life insurance policy taken out on Barbara Hennan, Van Veeteren is distraught at the inevitable outcome the result of a Northern European liberal justice system.
: the accursed G had been able to sit back and relax, and wait for the inevitable outcome- a not guilty verdict and one point two million guilders.
The narrative jumps forward 15 years to 2002 [the book dates from 2003 English readers have had a long wait for this series to reach us] when Van Veeteren is retired from the police, running Krantze’s Antiquarian bookshop and settled into a less stressful new life.
A young woman comes to see Van Veeteren, sent by his former colleague Munster, she is Maarten Verlangen’s daughter. She tells Van Veeteren that her father continued to drink excessively brooding about G and the death of Barbara Hennan. Now the private detective has disappeared leaving an A4 sheet of lined paper from a spiral bound pad on his kitchen table.
Written on it were “14.42” and “G. Bloody Hell”.
The former Chief Inspector Van Veeteren begins a search for Verlangen.
They had eaten turbot, if he remembered rightly, and drunk a bottle of Sauternes…..That was before the antiquarian bookshop. Before Ulrike. Before Erich’s death.
It wasn’t even a decade ago, he thought. But nevertheless my life has changed fundamentally. I’d never have believed it at that time.
Bausen cleared his throat, and Van Veeteren came back down to earth.
The G File is a well constructed detailed police procedural. There are few plot pyrotechnics, it does not need them, and while veteran crime aficionados might be able to guess the solution to the killing of Barbara Hennan the writing [and translation by Laurie Thompson] are of such a high quality that 600 pages soon whiz past. The G File is all about compelling characters, thinking about life’s mysteries, the creation of a dark brooding atmosphere, and the question how does a liberal justice system deal with really bad people.
The G File is a worthy finale of this series, and I am sure Maxine would have agreed with me that Van Veeteren deserves a place alongside Morse, Maigret, and Rebus in the panoply of great police detectives.
There was no point in speculating on that as well, of course, and he soon grew tired of trying to find alternative ways through the swamp that was life. His own path and turned out the way it did, and if he thought about it at all nowadays, it was with gratitude. Despite everything.