Sunday, February 17, 2013

Helene Tursten, THE GOLDEN CALF: Financials Can Bring Murder

Inspector Irene Huss is already well known in Sweden, where there are films and DVDs of the detective fiction in which she stars. THE GOLDEN CALF is the fifth in the series translated, this time by Laura A. Wideberg, and brought to the United States by Soho Crime.

This time Huss is not being held back by her department's often anti-female biases -- she's partnered with old friend and colleague Tommy Persson to investigate the shooting of a king of finance, although the victim's wife seems able to resist Tommy's trademark coaxing technique that has most women spilling their information. Huss's tougher stance doesn't do much good either. Fortunately, there isn't much time for the case to stall, despite the silence of wealthy widow Sanna Kaegler-Ceder. Because another team's report at "morning prayers" in the police staff room rings loud bells for Huss -- two more deaths with a similar firearm, in a similar pattern, and of a financial expert and an unknown victim who is quickly identified as Philip Bergman, a.k.a. the Golden Calf:
Last night's headlines had been huge: Two well-known financiers killed! and Golden Calf murdered!

Kajsa had mention to [Huss] that the press often called Philip Bergman "the Golden Calf." His name came from his phenomenal ability to attract investors without needing to lift a finger. Everyone had fought to have the chance to dance around the Golden Calf.
Thanks to Irene Huss's "experience, intuition, and stubbornness," the investigation quickly grows to include another financier, this one simply missing, and a Paris location that may play a role in whatever dotcom financial fiddling is being covered up by killings. When Huss gets a chance to go to the City of Lights, violence travels with her.

Several online references mention that Tursten -- a dentist turned crime novelist in midlife -- could be called a Swedish version of P.D. James. If that's what it takes to start you on this intriguing series, go for it. But a better comparison is to Donna Leon, whose Venice series features Commissario Guido Brunetti tests his intuition against that of his wife Paola, as well as the office assistant Signorina Elettra. The steady good sense and straightforward attentiveness of the couple, and their sturdy mutual affection (decorated with mouth-watering description of their meals), give enduring charm to Leon's series.

In the same way, Tursten crafts a balance, sane image of Huss's marriage to Krister, a chef who cooks wonderful meals for her and their twin daughters. In each of Tursten's crime novels, there's a thread that involves this "normal" family -- from daily stress, to teen angst of the daughters and the risks they sometimes take. In THE GOLDEN CALF, the twist is Huss's growing awareness of the signs of aging in herself (a bad knee, for instance), coupled with the slowly growing awareness that something's going wrong in her work partner Tommy's life.

Though Tursten's series doesn't explore the gore and darkness of some other Scandinavian series recently translated to English, Huss confronts the ugliness of violence as she "follows the money" to unravel the crimes. The caring comfort of her family balances the book, and makes it clearer that even the "clean" crimes of financial cheating lead to deadly disasters -- made all the more graphic by comparison with how ordinary people are blessed with family and home.

There's no need to read the other four translated Tursten books before this one (Detective Inspector Huss, The Torso, The Glass Devil, Night Rounds); the series is satisfying, though, and the fact that there are six more still coming through translation is even better to contemplate.

One last note: I'm not wild about the translation on this one -- the dialogue is stiff, and the sentence rhythms often awkward. But in some ways, this just accentuates the "foreignness" of the setting, and doesn't interfere with enjoying a great character and intriguing plot twists.

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