Friday, December 29, 2017

Backstory #3: When Your Husband Keeps a Secret, in PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS, Swedish Crime Fiction by Helene Tursten

Helene Tursten's investigating protagonist in Göteborg, Sweden, Investigator Irene Huss, is one of the most likeable officers in today's crime fiction. Married with now-grown twin daughters, Huss depends on her husband's cooking skills -- her own are negligible -- and lives with an endless guilt about the time demands of her career that will feel familiar to many. Moreover, she works in a Violent Crimes unit where gender bias is a daily factor, as much so as personnel shortages.

So as Irene's unit teams up with the Organized Crimes Unit to intervene in a series of motorcycle gang killings (and readers of the series already know that means extra flashbacks for Huss), the last thing she needs is to have to worry about her husband's safety. Or that of her daughters. And she can't step in to do much for them -- they will have to be, as the title suggests, PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS.

In addition to the skillful interweaving of personal and professional tension, Swedish author Helene Tursten provides memorable descriptions of the gritty reality of crime investigation, like this:
The gangster reeked of sweat and stale booze. He was wearing a T-shirt with Gothia MC's emblem on the chest; the same emblem was tattooed on his right forearm, and more or less every inch that Irene could see of his massive body was covered in tattoos. A colorful snake wound its way around his neck, ending up by his left ear. It showed up clearly on his shaven head. The snake was a skillful piece of work, but the rest of the tattoos were of varying quality.

The tread for inking is one of the best things that's happened as far as police are concerned, Irene thought. ... Per Lindström would need to wear a burka if he didn't want anyone to see his artwork.
PROTECTED BY THE SHADOWS is the ninth in this series that Soho Crime has brought to the United States. I like Marlaine Delargy's translation work -- smooth reading with just a hint of the awkwardness that sliding from one language and culture to another can insert, and in this case it adds to the sense of being transported to Scandinavia. Swedish and Finnish cultural insight add up in Tursten's books, and it's worth reading her entire series. But jumping into this ninth title "cold" is very workable -- Tursten carries the story forward skillfully. It's soon clear why Huss's husband refuses to share his dangerous secret with his police officer wife (although as a reader of all of the series, I think Huss's own backstory could have come into this one more vividly and raised the tension).

Watch for some insight into Sweden's experience of Muslim immigration, too. Ah, the benefits of reading well-written crime fiction! (Thanks again, Soho Crime, for keeping so many "foreign" investigations coming steadily across the Atlantic. Global crimesolving, for sure.) I look forward to more in the series from Tursten, whose entry into the field came after a career in medicine. Good move.

PS:  Looking for more mystery reviews, from cozy to very dark? Browse the Kingdom Books mysteries review blog here.

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