Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Detective Inspector Huss ~ Helene Tursten

Hard on the heels of the Martin Beck novels I've come across another Scandinavian Crime writer whose first book, at least, I've really enjoyed.  Detective Inspector Huss is the initial novel by Swedish writer, Helene Tursten, in a growing series about her eponymous heroine, Irene Huss.  The copy I have  says on the jacket that she is Sweden's Prime Suspect.  I can only say that whoever wrote that has either not read the book or not seen the British TV programme because Irene Huss, happy in her home life with husband and twin daughters, is about as far from Jane Tennison as it is possible to be.  Neither does the book glory in violence in the way that the television series can seem to.  Yes there is violence in this story, but for the most part it is kept at a distance.  We see its after effects, but there are no long drawn out descriptions of the attacks to which various members of the force are subjected.  In fact, if the book made me think of any English writer it was P D James.  Tursten's insistence on the day to day routine that is behind most police work and the need to follow through with all the necessary legwork is reminiscent of Dalgliesh at his best.

Irene Huss is called in to help investigate when an apparent suicide turns out to have been something more sinister.  The victim, Richard von Knecht, rather than jumping from his balcony appears to have been helped on his way and the case only becomes more complex when there is a bomb blast at von Knecht's office and an explosion in the car of one of the chief suspects.  When it becomes apparent that there is also a link through drugs to roaming gangs of Hells Angels the police team have to ask whether there is some wider criminal conspiracy going on, especially as all the family members who might have had reason to want von Knecht out of the way have what appear to be cast iron alibis.

I suspect that the reason I enjoyed this book so much more than many of the other Scandinavian novels I've tried is because it concentrates on the police rather than the victims or suspects.  I felt I really got to know the officers concerned in a way that has not been the case with several other writers.  In that respect, this is much more like a British crime novel.  However, one thing that it does have in common with many other swedish novelists is an exploration of some of the social and political problems that beset the country.  In particular this book considers the rise of the Nazi Party among Swedish youth and their denial of the Holocaust.  It doesn't impinge on the case - it is one of Irene's daughters who becomes involved - but nevertheless, Tursten makes it clear that any impression we may have in the UK of Sweden as a haven of political neutrality and liberal minded thinking is little more than a fantasy.

As far as I can see there are two more Irene Huss books available with a fourth due later this year.  If you want to try Swedish crime fiction without straying too far in style from what you're used to then I very strongly recommend you start here.


  1. I've had this one out of the library probably three times and never managed to get it read before it was due back--you convince me I should give it another try!

  2. I absolutely loved this novel when I read it a few years ago. The next two have also been available for some time (The Torso and The Glass Devil) but all three in US editions (available from Amazon UK). I hear a fourth translation is due later this year. My reviews of the first three are at Euro Crime:

    I agree that the character of Irene is as far as one can get from virtually all detectives in modern crime fiction. I also like the police procedural aspects, and the "upfrontness" without salaciousness or dwelling on the gruesome unnecessarily. In this novel, there are a couple of subplots that I thought quite moving.

  3. Do try it, Rohan. Apart from its concern with the social ills of Sweden it is very different from anything else I've read from Scandinavia and I would love to know what you think.

    Maxine, the one thing I did notice was the American translation and indeed there are a couple of very poor translation moments regardless of which English variant is being used, but not enough to put me off. 'Torso' is due to arrive at the library tomorrow.

  4. Hi Annie,

    I have never heard or seen anything of this author before, but if you liken her to P.D. James, then I shall definitely be on the look out for the first book in the series.

    I seem to be reading an inordinate amount of crime novels just lately, so I am always open to new suggestions to 'ring the changes' a little.

    Thanks for the recommendation.


  5. Hi Yvonne, sorry it's taken me a couple of days to get back to you. As Confucius so wisely said, we live in interesting times and I have spent the last two days trying to find someone who could get my car out of my garage after the lock broke. Much gnashing of teeth and swearing at people who say they will come out and then don't. Any way, I now have access to the garage and the car and have just picked up 'Torso' the second in the series. I hope it will be as good - you know what second book syndrome can be like - I'll let you know.

  6. I've had this first book for ages and am not sure why I've yet to pick it up as I've always thought it sounded appealing. I'm glad to hear she has a happier life than poor Jane Tennison, however!

  7. Danielle, I enjoyed this as much as anything I've read out of Scandinavia and have movers her second book very high up the tbr pile. I really recommend her.