Monday, February 13, 2012

Helene Tursten, NIGHT ROUNDS: New Swedish Crime Fiction

Hurrah for the fad of Scandinavian crime fiction in the United States, because it's pushing and pulling some really good books into translation. NIGHT ROUNDS by Helene Tursten is another in the Detective Inspector Irene Huss series (Detective Inspector Huss; The Torso; The Glass Devil). Set in Göteborg, Sweden (Tursten's home), it opens with a death at a small hospital -- not exactly an unlikely death, because it's a patient on a respirator, after surgery, but nobody expected this patient to fail in his recovery. Unfortunately, since the hospital's lost power and the emergency generator hasn't clicked on, reviving the patient in the intensive care unit is tougher than usual, and doesn't succeed. Nurse Siv, wobbling back to the nurses' station while the upset doctor goes searching for the apparently missing other nurse, isn't happy with the death or the dark corridor:
Out of habit she glanced through the ward window. A bone-white moon augmented the mild glow from the streetlamps outside. In the cold light from the windows, she could see a woman moving in the stairwell, her back to the nurses' station. The woman's white collar glowed against the dark fabric of her calf-length dress. Her blond hair was pinned back severely, and above it she wore a starched nurse's cap.
Unfortunately, that's enough to topple the nurse into a fit of sobbing on the floor. The nurse she's just seen has been dead for fifty years -- yet the antiquated uniform and even the hair and face match the photo that's hung around the ward, of the hospital's own ghost.

It's a situation that Irene Huss and her irascible and not always healthy boss Superintendent Andersson aren't really equipped to handle. They're not set up for ghosts as killers. And the friction between Andersson and pathologist Yvonne Stridner, which has built through the series, is another factor making crime solving tough for the usually resilient Huss.

At the police station, Huss's team is still plagued by the blatant sexism of one of its members, and at home, she's wrestling with her daughters being almost old enough to leave home, and her professional chef husband is working such long hours that her love life is sagging. Plus she's not really recovered from the violence she received at the hands of a Hell's Angels gang in an earlier investigation (see Detective Inspector Huss).

Huss is one of my favorite detectives, because her life makes sense: When she stays out too late, she suffers at work. When her husband comes through for her, she does better. She's startled to find her widowed mother investing emotionally in a new relationship. And she's as frustrated and worried as the other woman detective on the team, Birgitta Moberg, about ongoing malicious hazing activity in the squadroom, activity that Superintendent Andersson is slow to grasp and halt.

No nightmares from reading this one, no unbearable terror or detailed descriptions of gore -- this is the other kind of Scandinavian crime fiction, a sturdy and well put together police investigation of murder and malice, with a detective team that's quietly likable. Laura A. Wideburg's no-nonsense translation doesn't give much flavor of Swedish culture or ambience, but it lets the calm braiding of plot threads gleam quietly, proof of Tursten's capable narration and sensible probing of human motivation.

And that ghost? Come now -- do you expect Superintendent Andersson to buy into that kind of nonsense? ... even if Irene Huss is starting to understand why the hospital ward is in fact haunted, by factors rooted in envy, anger, and pain.

On sale February 14, published by -- of course -- Soho Crime.

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