“A deft anatomist of character.”
―O, The Oprah Magazine

“Nesser is one of the best of the Nordic Noir writers, unafraid of moral ambiguity and excellent at building a brooding atmosphere.”
―The Guardian

Hakan Nesser is one of Sweden’s most beloved authors and a much-lauded writer of crime fiction — most notably an addictive series starring the cunning Inspector Van Veteeren and another pair of thrillers with Inspector Barbarotti.  A prolific writer, Nesser was awarded the European Crime Fiction Star Award and has been awarded the prize for Best Swedish Crime Novel three times.  

The Summer of Kim Novak (World Editions), however, is not part of a series. It is a stand-alone, a wonderful mash-up of a coming-of-age story, a love story, a study of family dynamics, and a murder mystery. No clever detectives, no bleak Scandinavian wintry landscapes, The Summer of Kim Novak is set in a bucolic vacation spot on a freshwater lake in Sweden, where Erik and his friend Edmund have been sent to spend the summer, watched over by Erik’s older brother Henry.

They’ve split up the chores — Erik and Edmund do most of them while Henry smokes Lucky Strikes and works on his novel — but there’s plenty of time to float around in the lake, explore, ride their bikes, and ogle the occasional girl at the nearby amusement park.

The summer air is full of perfume and promise, a much-needed relief from what’s happening at home where Erik and Henry’s mother is in the hospital and their father is struggling to cope. The juxtaposition makes the summer more golden and more necessary.

It would have been dreamlike already, even if the object of Erik’s amorous fantasies, Ewa Kaludis, the stunning Kim Novak lookalike, hadn’t shown up. He first saw her back home at school where she was a substitute teacher. At first sight, he’d fallen in the kind of cataclysmic love only a 14-year-old boy can experience. She was unattainable, of course. First, she was a grown-up, and second, she was engaged to be married. 

But here she was, inexplicably and breathtakingly here at the lake, and thus the summer of Kim Novak was about to begin.

It’s hard to choose a favorite among the storylines. Erik and Edmund’s adventures are full of banter, mischief, curiosity, and discovery.  Henry is struggling to find his own true self, maybe through his writing, maybe through falling in love. The families back home are doing their best to carry on. We learn upsetting things about Edmund’s childhood, and we know that Erik and Henry’s mother is going to die. Erik has a mantra of horrible words he recites when he must face the unacceptable, which happens rather often. This mix of ordinary events, unexpected developments, and bitter truths we have to accept makes for very fine reading.

And all that is long before “the incident,” as Erik calls it in the first sentence of the book.

Originally written in Swedish, The Summer of Kim Novak was translated into English by Saski Vogel who was born and raised in Los Angeles and who now lives in Berlin. Clearly, Nesser found a kindred soul in Vogel as the book is lyrical, decidedly Scandinavian, and endearingly universal.

  

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Hakan Nesser (spelled Håkan Nesser in Swedish), born in 1950, is one of Sweden’s most beloved authors. He was born in Kumla and worked as a secondary school teacher in Uppsala before becoming a writer full-time. Nesser’s crime novels have been extremely successful in Sweden as well as internationally, and have resulted in several films. His books have been translated into more than 25 languages and sold over 13 million copies worldwide, garnering both national and international awards. A Summer with Kim Novak was originally published in Sweden in 1998. Nesser divides his time between Stockholm and the island of Gotland.