Tuesday, January 31, 2012

DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS, by Helene Tursten: Softcover from Soho Crime

Last week, Soho Crime released a softcover edition of DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS by Helene Tursten. The hardcover came out in the United States back in 2003; the softcover timing, I think, is geared to the mid February release of Tursten's Night Rounds in hardcover by Soho.

Whether my guess is right or not, the timing sure works for me. Last year I read two other good Irene Huss police detective novels -- The Torso and The Glass Devil -- but this new release is actually the first in the series, and I'm really glad that Soho sent a copy here.

Don't mix Tursten's books in with the painful hauntings of many Scandinavian "noir" novels that have crossed the Atlantic in translation recently. Although it's a crime/police/detection novel, it's neither "literary" nor grief-stricken. As one of the few female detective inspectors in Göteborg, Sweden, Irene Huss finds sexism rampant within the police department, and sees domestic violence and family losses differently than most of her male colleagues. But she herself is (heavens, this is rare now!) a well-adjusted woman with a hard-working, kitchen-capable husband and a pair of teenage daughters with normal issues -- a bit of rebellion, a few too many risks. When Huss takes risks, she doesn't do it out of self-destructiveness; she calls for a partner or for back-up; she knows that investigation will solve the case through the gradual revelation of detail, motive, and human failings. I've got to say, I love this protagonist. Unlike, say, Lisbeth Salander, I'd love to sit down for coffee and pastries with Detective Inspector Huss.

Remember the ballad of Richard Cory? From a poem by Edward Arlington Robinson, Paul Simon created a bitter song in 1965 that was recorded as part of the Simon & Garfunkel Sounds of Silence  album. In the narrative, a wealthy man who owns half the town commits suicide, out of the emptiness of his life, and a poverty-stricken observer wishes he could have done the same. I couldn't help thinking of the song at the opening of DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS, when tycoon Richard von Knecht lands on the pavement outside his high-rise apartment and Huss takes the call, gathering up her superintendent (Sven Andersson, a man whose blood-pressure issues are only crowded out by his genial old-time sexism), and heading across the soggy snow/rainy city toward the pavement death scene. She can't quite quash a hint of being titillated by the news, and by the chance to see how the very wealthy live.

But details quickly suggest that von Knecht's death -- plunging from a balcony when terrified of heights, clearly from a relaxed drinking session with someone -- must be murder. And Huss probes the not-so-happy lives of the moneyed family. An odd set of connections links some of the investigation with a second one into the Hell's Angels, drug crimes, and a situation that batters Huss and her partner in well-portrayed ways. Equally disturbing is the incipient racism that one of Huss's daughters is parading, thanks to a skinhead boyfriend.

Each page, each twist, each line of conversation (nice straightforward feel to the translation by Steven T. Murray) rings true to life. I never felt incredulous or skeptical; I never put the book down for more than a few minutes, either.

It's great to see the threads that Tursten established in this earliest volume of her series (watch for film versions, too). The quiet racism directed against "exotic" Finns intrigued me, along with the European ways of thinking and the Scandinavian relationships with winter darkness.

This one will stay on my shelf for reading again -- a sturdy, steady investigation that goes on for nearly 400 pages and stays fresh and enjoyable.

And, oh yes, I'm glad to say the same characteristics are represented in the newest translated Tursten, too. More about that, as we get close to mid February.
Note: Helene Tursten's earlier careers were in nursing and dentistry. She was born in Göteborg, Sweden, where DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS is set.

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