Review: Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten

When wealthy Swedish businessman Richard von Knecht falls to his death from his apartment balcony everyone assumes it is suicide. Naturally enough for a mystery novel there is soon evidence that leads police to believe von Knecht was actually murdered and they begin the slow process of unravelling which secrets of his life might have led to his murder.

And so we meet the members Göteburg Violent Crimes squad as they start interviewing von Knecht’s family members, neighbours and friends to uncover who might have had the motive and opportunity to commit the crime. The team is a large one led by Detective Superintendent Sven Andersson who is shown, as the book progresses, to be intelligent and supportive of his own staff, though he struggles to know how to handle emotionally charged situations and can’t seem to quite fathom how to deal with the women on his team. At times I wanted to give him a good slap but I found him very believable and ultimately sympathetic.

Among the seven Detective Inspectors on the team is Irene Huss, a middle-aged married woman with twin teenage daughters and a refreshingly supportive husband. We see her struggle with a truly scary situation as a parent alongside both frustrating and frightening situations at work and in all instances her behaviour and reactions seem entirely credible. The rest of the team is an interesting mixture of new and old colleagues including Irene’s good friend Tommy whom she has obviously known for many years as he offers to help out when the problem with her daughter arises. There’s also a quiet but hardworking Finnish man on the team, the ubiquitous bloke with one eye on his retirement, a feisty young female Detective Inspector and a brash and often worrisome young man who has a repugnant attitude towards women. Tursten does a lot with the team dynamics over the course of the novel and all of it quite fascinating.

The case, and therefore the novel’s plot, is complicated but Tursten does a good job of keeping the reader on top of all the threads, some of which turn out to be dead ends (though none the less emotional and engaging in one instance in particular). At times I was a bit lost as to the significance of something everyone in the novel seemed fixated on but I felt like the team were learning what was important and what wasn’t along with me and it felt natural to be a little confused at times. This book did an outstanding job of drawing the reader in to the experience of being in on such a case and the myriad of useless information that has to be collected before it can be discarded as of no importance.

At the same time though Tursten does explore a range of interesting social issues in just the right way to keep me interested in the novel. There’s a really moving thread about the perils of forgetting historical events which might lead to repeating the mistakes of past generations and a gripping, if highly frustrating, storyline about the difficulties still faced by women in workplaces that have traditionally been dominated by men. These were incorporated into the story beautifully and gave the book a quite thought-provoking after taste.

I’ve had this book lying around for ages but was prompted to pluck it from Mount TBR when I realised its author was one of three listed at the Crimescraps Favourite Nordic Women Crime Writers poll whose books I had not yet read (the other two are on my ‘to read soon’ soon pile too). I’m very glad to have been introduced to this thoughtful and engaging series which really does set a high bench mark for novels in the police procedural sub-genre.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Detective Inspector Huss has been reviewed at A Book a Week, Euro CrimeLetters from a Hill Farm (I so agree with Nan’s comment that this book really makes readers feel like they are part of the investigative team) and Mystery File (which shares the tip that the original translation for the book’s name would be The Broken Tang Horse which I think is a better name but what the heck do I know?

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

My rating 4.5/5
Translator Stephen T Murray
Publisher Soho [this translation 2003, original edition 1989]
ISBN 9781569473702
Length 371 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in the Detective Inspector Huss series
Source I bought it (exactly 3 years ago this week…and only just got around to reading it, shame on me)

This entry was posted in book review, Helene Tursten, Nordic Challenge 2011, Sweden. Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Review: Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten

  1. Maxine says:

    I liked this book – in a couple of sections it really lifts into very moving prose. I like Irene as she’s capable, professional and holds down a senior job as well as having a family life, rather unusual in crime fiction. I can’t remember a lot about the plot now, but remember enjoying it and getting to know the foibles of the police team. I highly recommend the next two, The Torso (perhaps the best of the three so far translated?) and The Glass Devil – which has a simpler plot than the other two but is very dark and gloomy. These are US translations, and finally a fourth is due out in a few months’ time. Irene Huss is also a popular TV series – Philip Young sent Norman and I some of the DVDs but I haven’t had time to watch them yet. BTW I really don’t like the cover – how boring and uninformative. Soho Press could do a tiny bit more about their covers. I also did not like the way the publisher dumbed down for the US readers, with footnotes converting metres into feet (which I am sure the US readers don’t need any more than the rest of us do).

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  2. I will definitely be reading the next two Maxine…as soon as I get through some more of my TBR stack. I agree the cover is awful – it’s not even a very good photo from a technical perspective let alone being an eye catching or informative cover – and frankly the name is not much better – happily I must have seen a review that inspired me to buy it but I wonder if the reason it languished for 3 years on my shelves was that the cover never leapt out at me when I was looking for my next read. I don’t have very many books that are that old still sitting around unread.

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  3. Bernadette – What a terrific review! I really like the Irene Huss character very much. I’m glad, too, that you brought up the way that Tursten weaves in larger themes as well as giving us a look at Huss and the rest of this crime squad. It really is a very effective start to the series, I think.

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  4. Kathy D. says:

    I have read the three books translated and available in the States. I may have been one of few who voted for Tursten in Norman’s favorite Scandinavian women authors quiz. However, I did, as she was the first Scandinavian woman mystery author whose works I read, even before I discovered Maj Sjowall. I like her books for all of the reasons cited in the blog, that Irene Huss juggles work and home life — and seems like a happy person. The character development is my favorite part of these books.
    I await the next one to be published by Soho Press, will even buy it if the library doesn’t order it.
    This is a series which I hope will continue on for years.

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