Wednesday 24 August 2022

Review by Jon Wilkins of "Detective Inspector Huss" by Helene Tursten

Following in the footsteps of Swedish crime writers, Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, we are invited into the world of a detective and, through them, discover what life is like in Sweden. There is so much more in the Irene Huss novels than a simple crime and discovery and that is how it should be. That is the true delight of the stories. 

In brief, to introduce the main characters, Irene Huss is around forty years of age and is a police inspector working in Göteborg with the Violent Crimes Unit. She is happily married to a chef, Krister. She has twin girls Kristina and Jenny and a dog, Sammie. Many years ago she was European champion at jujitsu. 

Work colleague Tommy Persson is her best and oldest friend. They have known each other since the police academy. Indeed, Irene feels the pull of family in the police force as she says: “We’re just like an old married couple … though she’d never said so out loud.” 

Her boss, Commissioner Sven Andersson, is actually too old for his job and should retire, but he does not want to. He regularly has high blood pressure and worries Irene. 

Jonny Blom is the most unsympathetic of her work colleagues, always on the edge with a spiteful selfish nature. He seems to represent the old fashioned machismo side of the police. Jonny Blom is a corrosive influence within the group. If this was real life, he would have been formally reprimanded for his misogynistic behaviour and I see his character as a weakness in the series. It is all well and good having a defective character, but it has to be true to life. He is an embarrassment and disciplinary proceedings would have been started against him. Blom may be married, but his womanising and drinking as well as his sexism and intolerance would not be acceptable in a modern police force. To say that his boss has old-fashioned values, so doesn’t really understand Blom’s faults, is a little naïve and he doesn’t confront him as he should. Blom is tolerated more as a dramatic device, but I feel in real life he would have been ostracised by his work colleagues, especially after his sexual assault on Birgitta, and sanctioned by his bosses for his intemperate and inappropriate behaviour.

Fredrik Stridh, Hannu Rauhala, Birgitta Moberg and Svante Malm are more sympathetic colleagues and we can warm to them all. The final main character is Professor Doctor Yvonne Stridner who is the forensics specialist. Brilliant at her job, she seems to intimidate everyone in the office, especially Andersson.

The Irene Huss series by Helen Tursten is unique in Scandinavian crime fiction in that as well as being a contemporary story about a Göteborg Detective who has made it to the top, the stories also show that she’s happily married with her two daughters and lives a normal family life as a contrast to the seedy, unpleasant, and often violent work she is involved in. It is the everyday ordinariness of Swedish life that is pivotal here and so the awful murders that do occur stand out in their savagery compared to the day-to-day actions at home.

If you start with Detective Inspector Huss, her first novel, you will be on a journey into Swedish crime and the metamorphosis of a character who should be more widely read.

About the reviewer
Jon Wilkins is 66. He is married to the gorgeous Annie with two wonderful sons. He was a teacher for twenty years, a Waterstones bookseller and coached women’s basketball for over thirty years before taking up writing seriously. Nowadays he takes notes for students with Special Needs at Leicester University. He has had a work commissioned by the UK Arts Council and several pieces published traditionally as well as on-line. He has had poems in magazines and anthologies, art galleries, studios, museums and at Huddersfield Railway Station. He loves writing poetry. For his MA, he wrote a crime novel, Utrecht Snow. He followed it up with Utrecht Rain, and is now writing a third part. He is currently writing a crime series, Poppy Knows Best, set at the end of the Great War and into the early 1920s.

You can read more about Utrecht Snow on Creative Writing at Leicester here.

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