(posted by Evan)
The Chestnut Man is a murder-mystery thriller in the classic serial killer vein. The killer leaves a calling card at the murder scene which are little chestnut men or chestnut dolls, which look like this:
If that isn’t scary to you then you’re probably Danish.
The killer, who comes to be called The Chestnut Man by the press, has a certain gruesome signature in that he likes to amputate the limbs of his victims while they are still alive. He contacts the police and other authorities, albeit in indirect and misleading ways. He also has a certain target victim – women, whose children have suffered abuse and neglect, though not necessarily by the mothers. This may or not have something to do with the killer’s motive, because it doesn’t make sense to punish the mothers in cases where it is not they who harmed their children. But then again, amputating limbs and then murdering people isn’t exactly a rational process. But this part from the first murder (2nd chapter so not really a spoiler) has held my intrigue:
“Are you okay, Laura?” Its tone is soft and affectionate and much too close to her ear. But the voice doesn’t wait for an answer. For a moment it removes the thing that was stuck in her mouth, and Laura hears herself begging and pleading. She doesn’t understand anything. She’ll do anything. Why her - what has she done? The voice says she knows perfectly well. It bends down very close and whispers into her ear, and she can tell it has been looking forward to exactly this moment. She has to concentrate on the words. She understands what the voice is saying, but she can’t believe it. The pain is greater than all her other injuries. It can’t be that. It mustn’t be that… She’s known it for a while, yet somehow not – and only now, as the voice whispers it to her, does she understand it’s true.
Intertwined with this developing series of murders is the story of a member of the Danish parliament, Rosa Hartung, who is just returning to work after taking a year off, a leave that stemmed from her daughter being abducted and eventually declared murdered. A man confessed and was convicted for her death, though her body was never found. But the fingerprints of her supposedly dead daughter are found on the chestnut men left at the scene of the serial murders. Oh, and Hartung herself is receiving threats.
Two detectives are working to solve the case, one of them, Naia Thulin, is eager to move from the Major Crimes Division to the National Cyber Crime Center, while the other, Mark Hess, is an exiled member of the Europol who got booted back to Denmark for some sort of misbehavior. He is mainly concerned with trying to get back to his old position until he becomes obsessed with the case. He also has two different color eyes. Hess’ obsession is well revealed in one particular instance: When Thulin comes to his apartment to bring him news about an important upcoming interview for the case (with Rosa Hartung), she enters through his unlocked door and finds newspapers taped all over his walls with lines and notes scribbled all over them and also the walls of the otherwise very bare apartment in red pen, trying to connect the dots. I imagine it must have felt to Thulin upon entering the room, a little something like this:
Mystery novels are always very good for book club’s because, even for lack of anything else to discuss, you can always get a good conversation going about who you think the killer is. I haven’t read many mystery’s in my days but as Madison reminds us, you usually meet the killer in the first 100 pages or so. We all seem pretty clueless, which I think is a sign that the book is well-written. As Andy remarked, we have as many theories as there are characters. It’s also very suspenseful. Most of the time it’s a page-turner, aided on by short chapters that make it easy to always read one more.
Adding to the experience for me personally is that Stephanie and I are both reading it on the Kindle she got me for Christmas. We take turns moving a little bit further in the book, so when we get to a particularly revealing (or at least seemingly revealing) or really messed up part, we can look at each other and exclaim or gasp about it. Then, when one catches up to the other, we go through the different possibilities about what we just read may mean in terms of who the killer might be. It’s been fun, and I would recommend this activity to you married couples out there, but only if you like your spouse.
The book is pretty messed up. I wouldn’t say it’s descriptively gory and nasty to the point of being difficult to read, but in addition to the nature of the murders, the element of child abuse delves into the deeply darker side of humanity. As even Detective Thulin thinks:
… the whole thing is incomprehensible. Previously, she’s only read about this sort of case or seen reports about them in the news and it strikes her that until today they seemed unreal.
I think this is relevant to the book, and you can’t beat it as a Shocktober musical interlude
About the Author: (from bookseriesinorder.com)
Author Soren Sveistrup was born in Denmark in the year 1968. He was adopted as a baby, and went to live with his new parents, both of whom were teachers on Thuro, the isolated island in the south of Denmark.
Here’s the trailer for The Killing:
A little in his own words:
Happy Reading! And don't forget to check your house for chestnut men before turning out the light!