The Chestnut Man: A Novel

Image of The Chestnut Man: A Novel
Author(s): 
Release Date: 
September 3, 2019
Publisher/Imprint: 
Harper
Pages: 
528
Reviewed by: 

“The Chestnut Man is an incredible novel that drips with atmosphere. This is the perfect potboiler for Nordic noir fanatics and first timers alike. Just don’t read it when you are all alone after dark.”

Since the early 2000s, Scandinavia has been the home of obsidian black crime and detective novels. From Norway to Sweden and Denmark, Scandinavian writers have successfully tapped into the frigid chill and perpetual gloom of their homeland in order to tell stories that often touch on the most taboo crimes in society such as incest, pedophilia, rape, torture, and other things most foul. The Chestnut Man, the debut novel from Danish screenwriter Soren Sveistrup, may be the darkest of them all.

The novel features the stereotypical detective duo of the haunted and slovenly Hess and the efficient, but somewhat naive Thulin. Hess has returned to his old stomping grounds in Copenhagen after burning a few bridges at Europol, while Thulin counts down the days until her transfer to the police’s digital crimes unit. Both get partnered up when Laura Kjaer is found murdered, mutilated, and amputated one night in October.

Besides the gruesomeness of the crime scene, the other noticeable element to the Kjaer case is the presence of a simple doll made out of chestnuts. Upon closer examination, fingerprints are recovered from the strange doll. The fingerprints belong to Kristine Hartung, the missing daughter of a prominent figure in the Danish government. Kristine is supposed to be dead, but the fingerprints prove to be one thread in a case of a serial killer with a serious grudge against Kristine’s mother and the entire legal system of Denmark.

The Chestnut Man is a fearsome page-turner that places a premium on action. The short and sharp chapters move along at a thunderous pace. Evidence piles upon evidence, and at almost every turn there is a new and shocking development in the Chestnut Man case. While readers should know that the ultimate reveal does not come until near the end of the book, hardly any should waste time trying to guess the culprit’s identity. It’s almost certain that you won’t get it right.

One more warning to the readers: This is not the novel for the squeamish or easily offended. The Chestnut Man includes passages about horrific ax murders, child pornography, child molestation, and rape. Most of the people in this novel fall somewhere between banal and evil, with the titular killer being the chief and leader of the horribles.

Sveistrup, who is best known for creating the television show The Killing, proves in here that he is a master storyteller with a true talent for murder. The Chestnut Man is as hard to put down as it is to stomach. The novel could be trimmed down just a little and still maintain its character-driven core.

For budding sociologists, The Chestnut Man provides fascinating detail about the troubled underbelly of Danish life—single moms using welfare checks to buy booze, unassimilated Muslim immigrants living in crime-ridden apartment blocks, and uncared for children bouncing between neglectful foster families. For police procedure fanatics, The Chestnut Man is true-to-life when it comes to homicide investigations and forensic examinations.

The Chestnut Man is an incredible novel that drips with atmosphere. This is the perfect potboiler for Nordic noir fanatics and first timers alike. Just don’t read it when you are all alone after dark.