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Helene Tursten

Helene Tursten is a Swedish writer of crime fiction. Before becoming an author, Tursten worked as a nurse and then a dentist, but left due to illness. During her illness she worked as a translator of medical articles.

Blurbs

"Add the voice of Helen Tursten to the list of mystery writers who know how to craft a truly satisfying police procedural."

– Philadelphia Inquirer

"An absorbing, intelligent mystery that holds its own alongside the best feminine hardboiled novels currently being written by Englishwomen Val McDermid and Liza Cody, and our own Sara Paretsky."

– Maureen Corrigan

"The picture Tursten provides of Sweden’s growing anti-immigrant resentment—embodied in Huss’ skinhead daughter—imbues this novel with a cold chill of dread that can’t be attributed only to the subfreezing temperatures of Göteborg in winter."

– Chicago Sun-Times

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Detective Inspector Huss

Murder. Explosions. A city draped in rain and shadows.

03/06/14

Murder. Explosions. Red herrings, interrogations, car chases, Hells’  Angels, a city draped in rain and shadows. These are the things that make Detective Inspector Huss the epitome of a modern detective novel.

Christmas shopping. Judo. A gourmet chef husband. An angst-ridden tween daughter who shaves her head to be in a skinhead band at school. Swedish politics. Inter-office gender politics. Angst about an approaching fortieth birthday. These are the things that set Detective Inspector Huss apart from the modern detective novel.

Originally published in Sweden in 1998 as as  Den krossade Tanghästen (The Smashed Tang Horse, an infinitely better title, in my opinion), Helene Tursten’s story of the police investigation into the murder of Richard von Knecht, one of Götenborg’s richest citizens, is by turns both a noirish police procedural, and a down-to-earth family portrait. The author deftly balances the scenes of Detective Inspector Irene Huss and her colleagues from the Violent Crimes Unit as they face danger, confusing evidence, and a veritable Gordian Knot of politics, drugs, drunkenness, and heaps of money in their murder investigation with the more domestic, but equally important scenes of Irene’s home life, detailing the arrangements that need to be made when she has to work late, the eternal patience of her supportive husband, the trials of her daughter’s first boyfriend, and the other things that make her a complete person and not just the cynical, bitter cop hardened by the years of violence and death she’s seen on the job.

Speaking of bitter and cynical, when I agreed to review this book, I decided to go back and reread The Long Goodbye, a true masterpiece of the noir genre by Raymond Chandler, who helped to create the image of the hard-nosed, tough-as-nails, sarcastic and cynical private eye. And don’t get me wrong, he did so wonderfully; I absolutely love Chandler’s work. But it is a product of the time it was written. Things have changed. Phillip Marlowe would not be able to operate the way he did in the ‘40s anymore. Tursten’s novel reflects these changes.

Huss is hardly the hard-boiled, cynical private eye that Marlowe was. But she doesn’t need to be. Where Marlowe is a loner, Irene has the entire Göteborg police force and a loving family at home to support her. The surrounding cast of characters help to flesh out the detective inspector as a character and as a fully formed, modern human being. She struggles to maintain the division of her time between an often demanding and demoralizing job and the duties of a wife and mother (of twin teenage girls no less). Where Marlowe will occasionally remind the reader that he is aging, and can no longer handle a punk the way he used to, Huss is feeling insecure about the steady approach of her fortieth birthday, and can’t help comparing herself to the other women she interacts with, feeling self-conscious around those younger or richer than she is.

This is not to say that the novel is all sentimental and soft, either. Tursten knows how to turn a phrase (on the assumption that the translator has done a halfway decent job of sticking to her original text). There are passages that feel like they could have leapt cleanly out of one of Chandler’s novels: “Nobody saw him fall through the dense November darkness. With a dull, heavy thud he hit the rain-wet pavement.” The entire novel is bursting with Atmosphere, creating scenes that are at turns terrifying, tragic, tender, and other words that start with T.

As a lover of a good mystery story, I can appreciate the way that Tursten is able to drop clues in places that seem insignificant, like the fact that the sheets had been recently washed when von Knecht was murdered. Is this an important detail that will ultimately lead Irene to the killer, or just another red herring? From reading similar stories, my brain has become attuned to these details: I was always able to identify when these clues were dropped, and make a mental note to remember them, but was never able to tell whether they were actually worth remembering or not. This is, for me, the mark of an excellent mystery as well as a sense of realism. Actual criminal investigations, from what I understand, are usually full of completely meaningless evidence that needs to be analyzed and considered because it might mean something. Unlike, say, an Agatha Christie novel, where the entire solution hinges on a single line the butler said back on page twenty-five, and everything else is just misdirection, Tursten makes every aspect of the investigation important, and the frustration and tension mounts for the reader just as it does for the police investigating the case. As Tursten puts it in chapter fourteen, “Check and double-check all the witness statements. And check again if you don’t find anything new. A routine job. But that’s the way you solve crimes.”

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