Skip to main content

The Chestnut Man


The Chestnut Man

You probably have encountered Søren Sveistrup’s prior work in some form. He is the author of THE KILLING, which was adapted for television not only in his native Denmark but also in the United States as a dark, atmospheric police procedural thriller set in Seattle. Sveistrup would be forever notable if he had chosen to rest on his laurels. I mean, how do you top THE KILLING? He has answered that question with THE CHESTNUT MAN, which is one of the best novels of this (and perhaps any) year.

The plot is somewhat complex but easily understood thanks to Sveistrup’s straightforward narrative, which is given a very able boost by Caroline Waight’s translation. He juggles a number of flaming chainsaws here. One concerns Rosa Hartung, Copenhagen’s Minister for Social Affairs, who is returning to work a year after the disappearance and apparent murder of her 12-year-old daughter, Kristine. Linus Bekker, a deeply disturbed young man, confessed to the crime, and the case has been considered closed even though he is unable to describe key details, including the whereabouts of Kristine’s body. Rosa is trying to hold herself together, but things are made difficult due to the political climate she walks into, as well as her continuing grief.

" of the best novels of this (and perhaps any) year.... The suspense is excruciating by the time one reaches the end of the story, where much is revealed and even more is sacrificed."

Meanwhile, the mutilated body of a single mother is found in a Copenhagen suburb. The only potential clue is that of an imperfect chestnut figurine located near the victim. Detective Naia Thulin, who is called in to investigate, is a bit prickly even in the best of circumstances, and more so when she is paired up with Mark Hess. Mark has been assigned to the Copenhagen police from national law enforcement as a bit of an alternative to what the British call “gardening leave” as the result of a transgression, and draws Naia in as his partner. The two don’t mesh at all, at least at first. She can’t wait to see the back of his head, while his people skills aren’t so much rude as nonexistent.

However, the case takes a very offbeat turn when it is discovered that the chestnut figurine bears the fingerprint of the long-missing and presumed dead Kristine. When more murdered bodies turn up with chestnut dolls nearby --- and again with her fingerprints on them --- it becomes clear that there is a killer with an agenda on the loose, and his actions are somehow tied to Kristine’s disappearance. It is an extremely intriguing mystery, but the character development is so fascinating that it almost puts the puzzle in the second chair. The suspense is excruciating by the time one reaches the end of the story, where much is revealed and even more is sacrificed.

THE CHESTNUT MAN is already in development as a Netflix series. Sveistrup’s extensive experience in television scripting is present here, the cinematic narration of which leaves the reader without a suitable pausing point for all of the best reasons. Don’t hesitate to read the book, or watch the series when it is finally available. There is already proof positive that one is superb. The other should be as well.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on September 20, 2019

The Chestnut Man
by Søren Sveistrup

  • Publication Date: September 8, 2020
  • Genres: Fiction, Mystery, Suspense, Thriller
  • Paperback: 528 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Paperbacks
  • ISBN-10: 0062895370
  • ISBN-13: 9780062895370