Reviewed by Jeanne
The library’s Nevermore Book Club has several members who are fans of “Nordic Noir”—dark psychological mysteries set in various parts of Scandinavia. Playing to this widespread love of the genre, Alexander McCall Smith has come up with his own variation: the Inspector Varg Novels, described as “Nordic Blanc.” The first title in the series is The Department of Sensitive Crimes. This book was a big hit in Nevermore, winning rave reviews.
Inspector Ulf Varg—both Ulf and Varg mean wolf, by the way so his name is Wolf Wolf—is the typical morose Swedish policeman (in the books, anyway) who spends time with a therapist to work out his inner anguish. This could possibly be better accomplished if he actually talked to the therapist, but inasmuch as the good doctor is preoccupied with his own interior monologue. His co-workers are similarly introspective; even his dog is depressed.
Varg is in charge of the titular department, which deals with crimes that must be dealt with discreetly such as the case of a man stabbed in the back of his knee. There’s also the case of a missing person who may not be missing or a person, or at least not the person as represented. There is much over the top introspection and commentary, but as with most of McCall Smith’s books, the parody is a gentle one, done with fondness and with an eye for the absurd.
I picked this up to fulfill a book bingo square for “A book set in Sweden” and because the Nevermore group enjoyed it so much. I did like it, but I think I would have thought it even funnier if I had read more in this genre. Some of the cases were left a bit unfinished to my way of thinking, but they also reminded me as the sort of case investigated by Mma Ramotswe and Mma Grace Makutsi—it’s not so much about the case but the people we meet and the things we learn.
While this wasn’t a top pick for me, it’s still a fun book.