CIPC #372: Håkan Nesser, Het vierde offer

I’ve written three different posts about chess in literature by now, in which several very brief unsuspecting chess scenes from a variety of books are put in the spotlights. Once or twice, I’ve also discussed full books in which chess plays an important role. Today, I stand in dubio, as the subject under consideration doesn’t really have a chess theme — or indeed a non-negligible number of chess scenes — but there is too much to fit in a slim paragraph. After some deliberation, I decided it still gets its own post.

Even the readers whose abode lies under the biggest of buttes are probably aware of the Nordic noir genre that has dominated the bestseller charts for a decade or two. One of the big names of the genre is Swede Håkan Nesser. His most popular series follows retired police inspector Van Veeteren. The second novel in that series, Het vierde offer (the fourth sacrifice)1 is our subject today. More precisely, a scene at the beginning of chapter 16.2

‘The bishop is misplaced’, said Bausen.
‘I can see that’, said Van Veeteren.
‘F6 would have been better. As it is now, you will never get it free. Why didn’t you play Nimzo-Indian, as I told you to?’
‘I don’t understand a thing about that’, grumbled Van Veeteren ‘Russian gives more speed.’.

You see what I mean when I say it’s too much for a single paragraph? I can believe that someone misplaces a bishop. I suspect that black fianchettoed his king’s bishop, a white pawn marched up to h6, and the bishop took refuge on f8 instead of f6, possibly with hopes of winning the impertinent intruder. But what’s that about the Russian? The name ‘Russian’ is sometimes used for the Petrov defence, but the bishop that should’ve been on f6 doesn’t seem to fit into that. In any case, I doubt that anyone ever had the choice between the Petrov and Nimzo-Indian; they’re defences against completely different setups. And no one ever thought the Petrov gives more speed than anything at all.

A few indifferent sentences later Van Veeteren continues

‘You have no material superiority, after all.’
‘That’s not necessary in this position. The h-pawn takes the queen in three, four moves, tops.’

Can you imagine? The queen must be so inextricably stuck that it’s sure to be taken in a few moves, yet the h-pawn can still somehow get at her. I’m trying to come up with a position like that, but I’m drawing a blank.3 Perhaps she could be pinned, but even then she could take her pinner rather than fall prey to the lowly h-pawn.

Black could take both rooks and centre pawns and then the h-row would be free.

Huh? How is taking centre pawns going to free up the h-file? (Which, come to think of it, is called the h-file, not the h-row.) And why is this your worry when he can take both rooks? Shouldn’t that take somewhat higher priority?

With black he could have accepted losing, but now that he had played a Russian opening with white there was no excuse.

There is indeed no excuse for playing a Russian opening with white.

Realism: 1/5 I suspect the murderer is a chess-lover who is desperately trying to keep these people away from the chessboard. And I must say I sympathize with him.

Probable winner: The game is interrupted by a phone call: the killer has struck again. The players seem to think this important enough to just agree on a draw without further play.

1. [Alas, none of the sacrifices seems to take place on the chess board.]
2. [The translation from Swedish to Dutch was done by a Clementine Luijten, the translation from Dutch to English by yours truly. I can’t say much about the former, but the latter is quite free. Probably because it’s not worth a dime.]
3. [Yes it’s true: I’m such a bad player, I can’t even beat a blank.]