THE CHESTNUT MAN by Søren Sveistrup
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: a big, intricate Nordic thriller for fans of Jo Nesbø and Lars Kepler
One of the season’s most hotly-anticipated new thrillers is finally here. From the mind that created the sensational television show The Killing now comes an equally-gripping - and equally-chilling - Nordic thriller: THE CHESTNUT MAN. In his debut crime novel, Søren Sveistrup instantly establishes himself as a must-read author for fans of Nordic Noir legends Jo Nesbø and Lars Kepler—and, for that matter, as a must-read for any reader who just wants a gripping thriller to sink their teeth into this fall. THE CHESTNUT MAN is good, old-fashioned Scandinavian crime fiction; it’s a hefty book, clocking in at 528 pages in the American hardcover edition, and immerses the reader in an intricate plot moving from the mundane details of police work to the cinematic (and gruesome) crimes of a twisted killer. If the plot of THE CHESTNUT MAN seems a bit familiar at first glance, don’t worry; Sveistrup sets up his debut novel in well-tread territory, but it quickly separates itself from the pack with richly-drawn characters, made-for-TV pacing, and, naturally, a killer with a modus operandi so sinister, you’ll want to read this book with all the lights on. The buzz surrounding the publication of THE CHESTNUT MAN has been significant; it’s earned incredible pre-publication praise, is a September Book of the Month Club selection, and is soon to be a Netflix original series. The buzz is warranted here; Sveistrup’s debut is a must-read for the crime reader looking for a big, bold, spend-all-day-reading thriller.
IF YOU FIND ONE,
HE’S ALREADY FOUND YOU
A psychopath is terrorizing Copenhagen.
His calling card is a “chestnut man”—a handmade doll made of matchsticks and two chestnuts—which he leaves at each bloody crime scene.
Examining the dolls, forensics makes a shocking discovery—a fingerprint belonging to a young girl, a government minister’s daughter who had been kidnapped and murdered a year ago.
A tragic coincidence—or something more twisted?
To save innocent lives, a pair of detectives must put aside their differences to piece together the Chestnut Man’s gruesome clues.
Because it’s clear that the madman is on a mission that is far from over.
And no one is safe.
If a novel’s first scene is its chance to make a first impression, THE CHESTNUT MAN serves up one of the best first impressions I’ve read this year. Our story begins on Halloween in 1989, when a local Danish policeman is called to a remote farmhouse for a routine visit. Sveistrup’s background in television is evident from the book’s very first page; readers will be instantly transported to rural Denmark and the beauty of the autumn season as our police officer ponders his career and his impending retirement on his peaceful car ride. But when he arrives at the farm, something terrible is waiting for him. This is no routine call. As he searches the eerily quiet farm, he finds himself in the middle of a bloodbath; a family has been slaughtered right where they sat eating their breakfast. And in the farmhouse, something even more disturbing: a series of “chestnut men” - dolls made of chestnuts and matchsticks - disfigured, oddly crafted, all seemingly watching over the slaughter. It’s just a little taste of what the author has in store for his readers in the brutally violent THE CHESTNUT MAN, and it’s the kind of opening sequence that heralds an utterly gripping read… for the crime reader with the stomach to handle it.
Fast forward to the present day, and readers meet the two characters around whom THE CHESTNUT MAN revolves: Naia Thulin and Mark Hess. Thulin and Hess make an unlikely pair; the oddball duo crafted with enough care and personality to make them equal parts entertaining and realistic. Naia Thulin was, for me, the driving force behind this story—the kind of compelling, thoughtfully-drawn character who would without a doubt make me come back for more. Thulin is a single mother and something of an under-appreciated rising star in her police force. When readers meet her, she has already proven herself in her department, Major Crimes, and is angling to move to the cybercrime unit, much to the dismay of her supervisor. So when Thulin is tasked with working alongside Mark Hess, she is less than enthusiastic. Hess is an outsider—a “liaison officer” from Europol, sent to Copenhagen as punishment for one of his many blunders on the job. Hess is perennially just a bit off-kilter, a perfect foil to Thulin’s cool and collected personality and work ethic. This duo will soon be given the case of their careers: the bizarre and disturbing discovery of a “chestnut man” at a crime scene, bearing the fingerprints of a 12-year-old girl who went missing one year prior. Oh, and that girl? She’s the daughter of a prominent government minister, and her case has massive media scrutiny accompanying it.
Each of us crime fiction readers probably have one or two (or maybe three or four…) fictional serial killers permanently emblazoned on our minds; the kinds of villains whose stories were so mythic and chilling that we’ll just never forget them, even if we want to. (I’ve got quite a few myself - the majority of them penned by Nordic Noir master Jo Nesbø.) I would be willing to take bets that the terrifying villain at the heart of THE CHESTNUT MAN will quickly become that kind of villain for many of you. There’s something about a villain with a unique calling card that seems to instantly establish the mythos of that character, and Sveistrup’s Chestnut Man has exactly that. Our story’s titular character leaves behind “chestnut men,” small dolls made of chestnuts and matchsticks, at his gory crime scenes. If there’s such a thing as a subtle killer, the Chestnut Man is not that; his crime scenes are sprawling, bloody things (turn back, those of you with weak stomachs! There’s no shame in it!), and his gruesome game will lead Thulin and Hess deep into the mind of a truly depraved individual. If violent, brutal thrillers aren’t your thing, you will be best served to give THE CHESTNUT MAN a pass; this book is nothing if not violent, and the extent of its violence did strike even yours truly as gratuitous at times. As the Chestnut Man works his way through Copenhagen, the trail of bloodshed he leaves behind him raises terrifying questions. Why is are the fingerprints of a government minister’s daughter - a young girl who has been missing for over a year, and was presumed dead - appearing on the chestnut men our killer leaves behind? Could she still be alive and being held captive? What is the Chestnut Man’s endgame, and who is he coming for next? Thulin and Hess - and their readers - are in for a layered, intricate ride, traversing every facet and corner of their city in pursuit of the truth. And when they reach the end of this 500-plus page epic, readers will be thrilled to see how deftly Sveistrup ties this story’s many threads together.
Sveistrup writes with the kind of confidence that I can only presume must come from creating one of modern crime television’s most iconic shows—his confidence is not only well-earned, but also beautifully utilized in his debut novel. THE CHESTNUT MAN is a bold, brash, big thriller; a crime novel bound to become a Nordic Noir classic.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Hardcover: 528 pages
Publisher: Harper; Reprint edition (September 3, 2019)
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