Saturday, December 10, 2011

Van Veeteren - Now This Is What I Call Retirement!

Why is it that in mystery fiction the genius detectives never retire to a sunny place somewhere to spend their days soaking up the sun and playing golf.  As any mystery fiction fan knows great detectives retire so they can be always available to their replacements who never have a clue about solving a crime. How the new guys got their job is always a mystery because they must run to consult with their retired colleague in order to solve the case of the day. 

That is certainly the case with Van Veeteren another interesting Scandinavian Noir mystery program. The Van Veeteren series is based on the novels of Swedish writer Hakan Nesser.  Mr. Nesser was a secondary school teacher until he became successful with his Van Veeteren series.

Håkan Nesser

I haven't read the novels yet and have only seen the few episodes of the series that have aired so far in the US. I love Scandinavian detective fiction, but I must confess it took me a while to warm up to Van Veeteren and his colleagues.  

Van Veeteren, played by Sven Wolter, has retired from the police force in Maardam (a fictional town). In the series it looks like a small Northern European city.  Of course, like any former detective or spy, Van Veeteren opens an antique bookstore that never has any customers.  That's actually a good thing because he has more work now than he did when he was on the force, lending more than a helping hand to his successor and protege, Munster, played by Thomas Hanson. Wolter plays Van Veeteren as a grumpy old man with a grandfatherly exterior, but an iron interior, who appears to be a sweet lamb to the occasional customer, but is really quite demanding of those around him. 

I have to also mention Munster's partner in the police force, Eva Moreno, played by Eva Rexed.  I'm quite surprised that "Eva Moreno" is a Swedish name. Seriously, I'm quite happy that a fellow Latina (is she?) is the smartest cop in the Maardam police force.  One reason Munster never solves any crimes by himself is that he has a huge crush on Moreno, and probably all he can think about. This office romance would be fun to watch except that Munster has a lovely and loving wife and adorable children. 

Munster is quite insecure as a detective and seems to need constant affirmation of his worth from Van Veeteren, Moreno, and his wife.  He sees Van Veeteren as his mentor, but also resents him, and seems unable to take over as lead detective because the older man is still actively around. Though I don't find Munster's character appealing, I find the relationship between him and Van Veeteren the most interesting in the series. Moreno is really the strongest detective and person, and the true successor to Van Veeteren on the force, except that she's a woman in a man's world. 

I finally warmed up to Van Veeteren in a recent episode when he has to deal with his prodigal son, a former drug addict, who is now becoming reacquainted with his family. In a very human scene father and son meet over lunch and Van Veeteren discovers he's about to become a grandfather.  Everyone is happy but cautious about the news, wondering if the son has really mended his ways and on the way to becoming a responsible adult. A tragic incident results in a crime that hits too close to home for Van Veeteren but that he must use all his genius to resolve to bring the guilty party to justice with the help of Munster and Moreno.

If you like psychological mysteries, unrequited crushes, and antique bookstores I highly recommend spending some time with Van Veeteren.  In the US you can watch the series on Instant Video or MHz Networks along with other international mysteries. All International Mystery series on MHz are broadcast in their native language with subtitles. You can also buy the DVD's from MHz Worldwide.

Below is a short interview with author Hakan Nesser (beware there are some spoilers of course):

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