The Summer of Kim Novak by Hakan Nesser, trans. by Saskia Vogel

Summer Kim NOvakI haven’t read many of the Swedish and Norwegian thriller/mysteries that are so popular. They’re often too violent and dark, like the Lisbeth Salander series. (I did watch the first two movies, but the violence in the second movie was over the limit for me.) I’d much rather recommend The Summer of Kim Novak, a Swedish coming of age novel that has a little violence but lots of insight into the human condition. 

It’s the end of the school year for high school student Erik and his friend Edmund. The summer stretches out before them, and they fantasize how they’ll spend the lazy days. Lots of time, they know, will be taken up with thinking about their substitute teacher, Ewa, a Kim Novak look-alike (this is 1962). Ewa is unlike any other teacher they’ve had: beautiful, flirty, and very approachable. She’s the girlfriend of a famous soccer player who lives in their town. 

Erik’s mother is dying of cancer that summer and his father decides to send Erik, along with Edmund, to their summer cottage on the lake to give Erik a break from those sad hospital visits. Henry, Erik’s much older brother, will look after them. Henry’s a free spirit, maybe not the best chaperone choice for two teenagers who are intensely curious about the sex lives of adults. And of course, who turns up at the lake, but Ewa and her soccer-star boyfriend. Ewa attracts–or invites–trouble and there’s some violence at a carnival and then a murder. When Erik and the police find out that Henry’s been sleeping with Ewa, he’s high on the suspect list. Erik hardly knows what to think, but he and Edmund try to sort it all out. 

It’s hardly the summer that Erik’s Dad imagined, but the boys learn some important lessons about the grownup world and each other. The reader often knows more than the boys do and that’s an enjoyable aspect of reading the novel. We get to see Erik and Edmund absorb the lessons they’ve learned and change. It’s all very atmospheric with just the right amount of tension. 


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