Not to be confused with the 2001 neo noir movie by the Coen Brothers, which has the same title, The Man Who Wasn’t There by Hjorth & Rosenfeldt is the second book in the Sebastian Bergman series. And what a piece of work Sebastian Bergman is! Described as ‘the Swedish Cracker’, he’s the country’s best criminal profiler, a notorious sex addict, a difficult colleague, and a psychologically damaged man.
He’s not in as poor shape as the six bodies dug up on a mountainside near the boarder with Norway, though. The team at the national murder squad Riksmord soon find themselves out there in the wind and rain trying to work out why four adults and two children were murdered, execution style, and buried up there in the early noughties.
And we get to know every team member in detail as their investigation proceeds – Torkel the leader is in love with experienced detective Ursula. She uses him for sex but is devastated that the husband she doesn’t love has left her. Jenny’s the bright young spark full of ideas, and becomes pals with Billy who is the action man on the team. Vanja used to be the bright young spark, but she’s waiting for admission to the FBI’s training programme and hopes to leave for Virginia any day. Then there’s Sebastian, the cleverest of them all, the most devious and also Vanja’s biological father, though she doesn’t know it.
Michael Hjorth has written episodes of Wallander, and Hans Rosenfeldt is one of the creators of The Bridge. It’s no surprise then that this book has a televisual feel to it. Several complex storylines unfold as we switch from the viewpoint of one character to the next. It’s deftly done by the writing duo, and they manage to get a great deal into this procedural story.
For instance, we meet the investigative journalist Lennert who desperately wants to break a story about the disappearance of two Afghan immigrants. He’s helping the widow of one of them find what happened to them. Then there are the criminals. We know early on what the crimes are and who did them, but not why. There’s definitely a cover-up going on, plus a woman’s hacking into the police computers and selling the info on.
Another subplot revolves around Sebastian, the woman he’s trying to get rid of, and his deep desire to play the role of father figure to Vanja. Trouble is, she was raised by a man she understands to be her father. Once again, things get pretty complicated but Sebastian shows his true colours.
One thing the authors show very well is the logical process people go through when they’re lying. We see criminals weighing up whether or not to tell the truth. But we see some of the police characters doing exactly the same thing.
If there’s a problem with the story, it’s that they’ve tried to fit too much in, which breaks up the investigation. For long periods we are taken away from the six homicides, to the point where they almost become irrelevant. Sure, it’s realistic that case will stall, but if you lose your attachment to it then the entire story stalls. You might find yourself thinking, “Can’t we just get back to the murders?”
Once the different plotlines begin to link up the action ramps up and this injection of pace is what The Man Who Wasn’t There rides into its finale. Yes, things fall into place largely as you’d expect them to, but the ‘why-dunit’ aspect of the reveal is most satisfying. And, it’s fair to say that the book ends with a bang.
Have you read one The Man Who Wasn’t There? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!