Wednesday, 29 June 2011
The Torso ~ Helene Tursten
Irene Huss and the other members of her investigative team are called in when the torso of a body is discovered on the Swedish coast line wrapped in a black plastic bag. Not only has the body been dismembered, but it is clear from the obscenities inflicted on the remains that the victim has been horrendously tortured and mutilated. Searching across Europe to try and identify the corpse, Huss discovers a similar crime in Denmark and so is sent by her Superintendent to Copenhagen to see if there is any evidence there as to who the body parts may have belonged to. The information that Irene is able to pull together suggests that a necrosadist is operating in both countries, killing in order to get sexual satisfaction from the desecration of the bodies.
Very quickly, it becomes apparent that the killer is aware of the police's interest in him and that he appears to have some level of access to the investigation. A succession of people identified as having likely connections with the murderer turn up dead or are viciously attacked and the fear grows that he will target members of the team themselves. There is also the possibility to be faced that it may be one of their own who is the perpetrator.
One of the things that I find admirable in Tursten's work is that she doesn't glory in the horrors that she has to describe. She doesn't hold back, but there is no sense of her using the terrible scenes that are involved to draw the reader in. And believe me, in this book she could well have fallen prey to that temptation. The point is made on several occasions that necrosadism is extremely unusual and for that we should all be extremely thankful. Nevertheless, while she leaves us in no doubt that the actual murderer is a monster, Tursten is also careful to explore the manner in which more 'normal' humans can find themselves drawn into the environs of such appalling practices and, for the most part, these people she depicts with a welcome level of sympathy and understanding. It would be all too easy to judge.
As before, there are certain things about Tursten's work that don't necessarily translate well in either the literal or figurative sense of the word. I'm fairly sure that only one translation has been commissioned and it is definitely an American one. Even so, I think something audacious takes 'the biscuit' rather than 'the cake' in both versions of the English language and there are several other incidents of such infelicitous renditions. And then there is the detective set up. Do the Scandinavian police really not ring each other up after five o'clock because everyone would have gone home? I find that rather scary. And do they really turn a blind eye to some of the excessive drinking on duty that goes on and the behaviour towards colleagues that results. There are a couple of Tursten's detectives who, if Quintin Jardine's Bob Skinner was to ever to have them under him, would find themselves back pounding the beat before they could blink. That is if he didn't throw them out of the force altogether.
However, these are relatively minor points and I wouldn't want anyone to be put off this series, which I think is one of the best to come out of Scandinavia in recent years and certainly one I hope continues through many more volumes.