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16th November
2010
written by Steph

While Sweden seems wintry and cold in so many ways, the one way in which it seems to be blazing hot is on the crime fiction front. With the insane popularity of Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, authors with umlauts (how’s that for the name of a federation?) have never been so well-read. Poor Helene Tursten, may not have any fancy diacritics gussying up her name, but don’t let that dissuade you from checking out her crime novels. I admit that “Detective Inspector Huss” is not necessarily a title that’s going to immediately pique your interest, but just as we’re not supposed to judge books by their covers, we should also probably refrain from judging them based on their titles… If you like novels that involve: drugs, sex, explosions, conspiracies, political agendas, and awkward translations, then this is the book for you!  When financial tycoon, Richard von Knecht plummets from his balcony onto the pavement below, all signs point to suicide. But upon closer inspection, it becomes clear that von Knecht didn't jump to his death, he was pushed. Enter Sweden's Violent Crimes division and detective inspector Irene Huss, who begin to look into von Knecht's increasingly suspicious - and dangerous - death. With an itinerant bomber on the loose, clues and suspects are being erased at a frightening pace... The clock is ticking for Irene and colleagues to crack the case, but to do so, they may have to take a few risks... Essentially, many of the elements that were present in Girl With the Dragon Tattoo are also present in Detective Inspector Huss, but by and large I’d say this is the stronger of the two books. The pacing is far superior here as it begins with a man plummeting off of his balcony as opposed to one receiving a framed, pressed flower, which I think speaks volumes about the relative clip of the two books. I’d also say that Tursten has plotted a cleverer and tighter mystery than Larsson, and I found the explanation of the motivation behind the various crimes (seemingly unrelated to one another only to gradually encroach on one another) much more sophisticated and rewarding than that given at the end of Dragon Tattoo. That’s not to say this is a perfect novel – I’ve read better, more compelling mysteries, and this novel does fall victim to some of the same pitfalls of Larsson’s first novel as well. As mentioned earlier, the writing wasn't exactly magnificent by any stretch of the imagination (though I would once more tip the balance slightly in Tursten’s favor), and there were portions that were definitely stilted and awkward, likely due to lackluster translation (especially with a few idioms that just don’t have English equivalents). It was always apparent to me that I was reading a novel that had not been originally written in English, but this was also generally true when reading Dragon Tattoo. Additionally, I am beginning to suspect that Swedish people are exceedingly obsessed with product placement. Like Larsson, Tursten frequently name-checks Ikea and calls out certain items in scenes by their IKEA product name, which just seems super excessive to me. I get that IKEA is great and the Swedes have every right to be proud of it, but damn! Still despite these faults, I did enjoy my time spent with the titular heroine of the novel, who I found fairly interesting and frequently very kick-ass. One thing I’ve noted in my rather cursory foray into Swedish crime fiction is that the authors are often very socially conscious, and tend to highlight political and social issues in a way that most American and British crime fiction does not. I really felt like I was getting an accurate glimpse into Swedish society, seeing it through a lens that is not blind to its various turmoils and faults. Like Dragon Tattoo the issue of racism rears its ugly head in this novel, so I assume that skinhead factions must still be a fairly big deal in modern Sweden; certainly enough so, so that authors feel it should be addressed in their novels. One thing I also liked about this novel (but which I think also has some sad parallels to Dragon Tattoo) was that it was an interesting and thoughtful look at misogyny, particularly the struggle women still face in male-dominated professions. Irene Huss and another female colleague on the police force must deal with unwanted sexual advances and harassing and belligerent behavior by several men on the squad, including their captain who makes comments like “It was so much easier when women just worked the desks” and espouses other kernels of wisdom of a similar ilk. It was incredibly frustrating to imagine being in that situation, and yet I couldn't fault Tursten for highlighting something that I’m sure is a very real problem. So often female detectives are presented as these hard-shelled, brilliant savants who are so tough that no one dares to mess with them. DI Irene Huss is remarkable in many ways, and yet she still faces a lot of the bullshit that many women do, and I applaud Trusten for taking a realistic stance here. It was certainly an unexpectedly thought-provoking issue to crop up in a crime novel, but it was also very welcome as far as I’m concerned. Overall, I’m sad that this series doesn’t seem to have the attention or fame that Larsson’s stuff has attained, because I thought that it was so much better. I confess that this was a book I picked up at random while at the library, so it’s not like I knew any better beforehand, but I think it would be great if Irene Huss got a bit more attention. She may not be quite as sexy or enigmatic as Lisbeth Salander, but there’s a lot of good stuff going on in this novel that’s worth readers’ time. The mystery itself kept me guessing until the end, had plenty of red herrings, and best of all, didn’t wind up being lame when all was revealed. If you’ve been bitten by the Swedish crime bug or just have an affinity for browsing through IKEA product names, this might just be the next book you need to pick up. Rating: 3.5 out of 5

10 Comments

  1. 11/16/2010

    I am trying to widen my reading of Scandinavian crime novels but as you only gave this 3.5 I may give it a miss! Sofi Oksanen’s Purge was very rewarding – you may have read it already, but its an excellent example of the genre

  2. 11/16/2010

    Interesting about the produce placement! I don’t know if you’ve ever read any books by Karin Slaughter, but she has the detective always driving a BMW, and usually puts a funny remark in the acknowledgments to the effect that she would love to receive one in exchange for the product placement!

  3. 11/16/2010

    Can there be a Swedish book (or movie) without lots of sex? They have a reputation to maintain 🙂

    I’m still trying to figure out the reasons behind Dragon Tattoo’s huge success. It was good, but not THAT good.

    Are you serious about the IKEA names? That’s hilarious!!

  4. 11/16/2010

    I have been hearing a lot more about Swedish crime novels in the past few months, much more than ever before. I like that this book is almost a step up in terms of plotting and pacing from the Stieg Larsson books, though I do find it amusing that they both seem to love IKEA. I am going to be looking for this book, because as you know, I was not overly impressed with Larsson’s first book, but I am still interested in this genre.

  5. 11/16/2010

    I likes Larsson and I like Ikea but that much???? I dont know.

  6. 11/17/2010

    @ Tom C: I think that part of what might have been holding this novel back was the fact that it’s the first in a series. I always find those books more difficult, simply because they have to do so much world-building and establishing all of the characters. Haven’t read Purge, but I will check it out!
     
    @ rhapsody: Haven’t read any Slaughter books, but maybe there is something to the kickbacks… Perhaps IKEA products are easier to come by? 😉
     
    @ Alex: I am dead serious about the IKEA names! There were at least 3 or 4 mentions throughout the book!
    And I admit, I’m not enough of a Swedish lit buff to know whether sex is a must-have element, but I’m beginning to see a trend…
     
    @zibilee: It was kind of uncanny how similar to Larsson’s first book this was. Not so much that you’d confuse the two, but if you’re looking for similarities, they’re quite apparent. I’m still waiting to find a Swedish crime novel that wows me, but this wasn’t half bad!
     
    @ Mystica: Well, exactly… I mean, it’s a bit overkill!

  7. Ha ha, Authors with Umlauts. That’s all I have to say 🙂

  8. Eva
    11/18/2010

    >>If you like novels that involve: drugs, sex, explosions, conspiracies, political agendas, and awkward translations, then this is the book for you!

    LMAO

    I have yet to jump on the Scandinavian crime bandwagon. I like my mysteries cosier, thank you very much. 😉

  9. 11/18/2010

    @ Kim: I was quite pleased with the group name, if I do say so myself! 😉
     
    @ Eva: I prefer a cosy mystery too, but sometimes it is nice to branch out and try new things. Also, aren’t you currently reading Purge by Oksanen? Hardly cosy reading based on your vlog! 😉

  10. 11/19/2010

    I think this book may be for me. I know you didn’t think much of Larsson’s trilogy, but I am just coming off the last of those books, and I am not ready to leave Sweden yet 🙂

    Oh, and I missed your blogiversary! Congratulations!

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