Tuesday, January 28, 2014

THE FIRE DANCE: Newest Swedish Police Procedural from Helene Tursten

This is the sixth Irene Huss detective novel that Soho Crime has brought out, in translation from the Swedish; we are catching up with books that have been bestsellers in Europe, and Tursten's books were TV hits, complete with competitions.

THE FIRE DANCE just came out in the US, and it's well worth adding to the shelf. "Part One" threw me -- I realized quickly that the detective Huss investigating was much younger, and newer to the job, than the one I'd been enjoying in recent Tursten books. Because Huss is such an interesting woman, with her blend of family issues, workplace battles, and intense investigations, I was disappointed. But that didn't last long. It turns out "Part One" is a flashback to those years, and the rest of the book resumes the life slot I was enjoying so much (nice to see someone else struggling with similar issues), including Irene Huss's well-earned creds in her division, and the conflict she faces as her daughters turn toward the arts and even counterculture, when she's pretty much a straight arrow herself.

The case that arrives in Huss's load "now" is the death -- by fire, while still alive -- of a young woman whom Huss had met 15 years earlier, when little Sophie might have shared evidence about her stepfather's death in the family's home, by fire. But Sophie instead declined to talk. Was she the fire-starter? What psychological damage could she carry that led her to light the killing fire? Or, if she hadn't started it, what had she seen, that effectively silenced her? What damage did she carry forward into her life as a dancer and then choreographer? Why was she killed at this moment?

When Huss realizes the strange child has become the adult victim of arson, it's impossible to separate the two deaths. Sophie's family doesn't make things any easier: a younger half-brother who seems nice enough, a totally unpleasant mother with unfortunate habits, and a lot of deaths of other relatives. And money? When in doubt, follow the money -- yet Detective Inspector Irene Huss isn't seeing much of a money trail, unless you count the next lover that Sophie's mother has reeled in.

There's much less in THE FIRE DANCE of the intriguing gender battles in Huss's division; she seems to have crested over them for the most part. Her boss is still impatient and interrupts her work for "more important" cases at the drop of a hat -- which is probably a pretty realistic view of urban police detection, where multitasking and shifting priorities take over. But Huss is in control of her work life for the most part -- her home life is less steady, especially when Huss's own daughter Katrina edges into the circle of friends around Sophie's half-brother.

Yet Tursten neatly presses home life against work in ways that open Huss's thinking and send her into risky yet productive forays that reveal more about this stressed and fracturing family in her case.

The Irene Huss series is a good counterweight to the gray-snow grimness of many of the Scandinavian noir titles appearing in translation. It's a sturdy and well-plotted police investigation with human warmth, one that makes Göteborg, Sweden, into an appealing location that could be worth a visit. You can see why Swedes in particular have embraced the books. I did note, though, that the darkest part of Huss's past -- which has come up in earlier titles -- looks as though it's coming back to the surface, as the Hell's Angel criminal that Huss tangled with has completed his prison sentence and is somewhere on the scene. So I'm sure there's another Irene Huss book ahead, and ... oh, those lucky Swedes, they are probably already reading it!

A quick note on the translation: Laura A. Wideburg has done a nice job, but the language is ever-so-slightly off in terms of speech rhythms; I have a feeling the original probably "sang" a bit more. Nonetheless, even though I was more aware of reading a translation than I have been with some others lately, it didn't stop me or slow me down; this met the category of "must finish this book before the weekend is over" and I recommend it, as a Swedish parallel to investigations written by, say, Archer Mayor or William Kent Krueger.

Have you read some of this series? If so, do you have a favorite?

Here is the Soho Crime page for Tursten; and other Kingdom Books reviews of Tursten's books, here.

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