Monday, December 14, 2015

The Other Kind of Scandinavian Crime Fiction, from Helene Tursten (Swedish)

The eighth in Helene Tursten's Detective Inspector Irene Huss series releases December 15 in the United States, thanks to Soho Crime and translator Marlaine Delargy. THE TREACHEROUS NET (a 2008 title in Sweden) picks up with DI Huss as she's adapting to an empty nest. She and her chef husband Krister mark time at home by looking forward to the next visit from their 22-year-old twin daughters, while Irene's career life has turned stagnant. That's in large part due to her new superior, Superintendent Efva Thylqvist, who values the men on the Violent Crimes Squad, but not Irene. Isolated, nearly silenced, it's a bad time for her.

So when two murdered teens are found in the same week, Irene's determined not to let her superintendent steer the cases into the hands of only the men -- and her actions to hold a major role in the investigations mean she's confronting Thylqvist in risky ways, daily.

Add to this the overload on the squad, during a gang war, and the sudden appearance of a body walled up in a cellar, with indications that the death happened decades ago, and Irene's in the midst of the chaos that's become familiar in the preceding seven books: In Göteborg, Sweden, as in most other modern cities, crime races ahead of the available police force.

For Irene Huss, the overload and the simultaneous need to fight for her role in the squad mean she's not the cheerful, appreciative spouse that Krister expects for his spaghetti Bolognese dinner. In the face of his mild sympathy, Irene's ready to sound off, and dump, and admit she's upset by the violent deaths of the young women she's just witnessed.
"It's strange; I don't usually let things get to me, but these cases are just so tragic," she said.

Krister nodded sympathetically. "The two girls were so young, and then you find the mother of one of them dead. Perhaps this case is getting to you because you're a mother yourself. Our girls might be twenty-two, but you never stop worrying," he said.

"This killer worries me. I don't want another teenage girls to go the same way, but we're not sure how he gets in touch with them. We suspect it might be through the Internet, some youth site maybe."
And that, of course, is one of the aspects the book's title refers to -- the "treacherous" 'Net, where lonely and naive young women can be lured into "dates" that turn out to be a kidnapper's dream. For these two girls, at least, the process is already fatal -- and Irene soon realizes that the killer must be grooming multiple potential victims, as she sorts out the names he's using online. At least one of the girls has left a trail that Irene can soon see, as the teen had "walked straight into a trap. She had allowed herself to be drawn into the treacherous net. Easy prey."

Readers of earlier books in this series will be familiar with Irene's irascible and sexist but unquestionably effective former superintendent, Sven Andersson, whose health issues have sidelined him to the Cold Cases Unit and a short road toward retirement. While Irene struggles for traction on the predator and the cases, past and future, Andersson himself is caught in a net tossed by Superintendent Thylqvist, dragooned into tackling the case of the walled-up body. He too is facing a back story that involves a net -- this time possibly short for network, as in espionage, and perhaps taking the newly discovered corpse all the way back to the Second World War and related resistance.

Delargy's translation is straightforward and workable, as she lets the crime-solving unfold from its two major directions. It's hard to tell whether the slight stiffness to the text is a result of losing the rhythm of the original words, or actually part of a somewhat more formal, less time-pressed sort of mystery that Tursten's developed. Swedish cultural specialties, from the treat called a Princess Cake, to the joint vacation season for all the investigators, to the national unease around wartime history, stand out clearly here. Unlike the classics that Americans have often read in the Scandinavian field (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo; the Wallander series from Henning Mankell), Tursten's investigator isn't drowning in depression, or seasonal affective disorder, or family dysfunction. Huss is easy to identify with, if also a bit frustrating in terms of her slow realization of the politics around her. Then again, aren't we all a bit slow to see the larger pattern?

Once Irene is on the right track, though, her pursuit is relentless, and eventually effective. Andersson's parallel investigation isn't as direct, and I thought it was unfortunate that it "bookends" the book itself, so we lose Irene completely as the narrative wraps up -- an odd choice of pacing. However, now that I've savored this series for so long, I suspect the move is to set up another Tursten book -- there are at least two more that haven't yet crossed from Sweden to America. That's good news: There's plenty of this series ahead.

There's no need to read the earlier books in the series before tackling THE TREACHEROUS NET. The crimes in those titles don't feed into this book, and while Irene Huss's home situation changes from book to book as her daughters grow up and her marriage shifts its ground, there's no particular arc of complication based in her personal life. So go right ahead and dig into this traditional police crime novel -- the other Tursten titles are available via Soho Crime, and have moved into paperback. Check out their reviews here. Thanks, Soho Crime.

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