review, Sweden, Translated

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten

Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten, translated by Steven T. Murray

Soho Press, 2003

Source: library copy

Irene Huss book 1

My Swedish reading kick continues!

Irene Huss is one of a few female detectives in the city of Göteborg, and she happens to be a judo champion and the mother to teenage daughters.  The central case involves the murder of billionaire financial wizard Richard von Knecht, who is found dead below his balcony in the opening pages of the book.  The investigation leads the investigative team into the unhappy lives of the von Knechts and into criminal enterprises in Goteborg.  The main subplot in the book involves one of Irene’s daughter’s dabbling with becoming a skinhead in order to impress her boyfriend.  The book balances a lot of threads besides the main criminal investigation:  what it’s like to be woman in a male-dominated police department, what it’s like to be a detective without a crumbling family and personal life, and the neo-Nazi scene.

What struck me most about the book is the attention that Tursten pays to her characters.  This book is a procedure-heavy police procedural where we follow the crime squad’s daily work to find von Knecht’s murderer.  It’s a lot of characters to balance both in the police station and out in the field, and the book feels long enough that everyone was given a chance to reveal themselves.  One exception is the newest member of the team, Hannu Rauhala, the Finnish detective. I’m not sure what it is that Tursten does so well with her characters beyond spending the time developing them:  other books feel rushed in comparison.

What else is so appealing about the book:  the character of Irene Huss herself.  She is very good at her job, a bit frazzled with trying to have a family life too, and human.  She flirts with burnout, but who wouldn’t after so many years as a police woman and with the bad things that happen during the von Knecht investigation?  And, I think what’s also refreshing about her is that she’s not a grouchy loner character like so many private investigators or police detective protagonists.  She actually has relationships:  with her family, with her colleagues, with the people she meets during her work.

This book isn’t especially fast-paced–or I may be saying that because I didn’t get to read this book in large chunks at a time– but it doesn’t drag either.  Tursten, however, does not seem to be hung up on plotting and lots of cliffhangers at the expense of the characters.  I think that’s a smart approach for the introductory book in a series.  I’m looking forward to reading more in this series.

Other reviews appear in Crime Segments, Euro CrimeMysteries and More from Saskatchewan, and Confessions of a Mystery Novelist.

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10 thoughts on “Detective Inspector Huss by Helene Tursten”

  1. Rebecca – I’m so very glad you enjoyed this novel. You’ve touched on two of the the things that make it especially effective for me: the characters and the effective pacing. As you say, there are plot twists and a mystery, and Tursten handles them well but they don’t come at the expense of interesting characters. I have to say I like the setting too. And thank you for the kind mention.

  2. I really liked this book, too, and agree that the character of Irene, and the interactions within the squad, are strong elements. There are a couple of really moving and poetic passages, too.

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