Saturday, July 13, 2013

Detective Inspector Huss

Can it be - a reasonably cheerful Swedish detective?  And not just one, but several, all working together?  Yes, at least in the charming southern Swedish city of Göteborg (pronounced, per Lonely Planet, "yer-te-bor").  This is not far from Malmö, around where that depressive Kurt Wallander hangs out, but miles away psychically.

And, literar-ily too.  In the end, I enjoyed Helene Tursten's Detective Inspector Huss, but more because I liked the cops and the setting, NOT because this was a particularly well-written book.  There was the same stiltedness that I assume comes from translation as one finds in a Henning Mankel novel, but compounded with a really dreadful reliance on cliche and excess verbiage.  The writing was distracting to the point that I had to put the book down for several weeks after getting a few pages in.  Try this paragraph:

"Irene spent a few hours bringing Jimmy up to speed.  She had not complaints about his interest.  He hung on every word she said.  It couldn't be denied that she envied him his enthusiasm faced with this intricate mystery.  His puppylike eagerness was sure due to his youth, but his questions were intelligent.  Her instinct had been correct.  These days, the more complicated things got, the more tired she felt.  But she remembered how it had been the first few years.  The excitement, the aroused hunting instincts, and the feeling of triumph when the case was solved.  Of course, she still had these feelings, but noticeably attenuated.  Far too many cases had not left being the sweetness of victory, but rather a bitter aftertaste.  You become either jaded or cynical in this profession, she thought in her darker moments.  But she didn't want to become either jaded or cynical!  You had to go on, keep moving forward.  You couldn't stop and dig yourself a hole.  The job she had chosen was not without its dangers, but she had never wanted to do anything else and had always enjoyed her work.  The past few years she had begin to notice an insidious feeling that hadn't existed before.  Only recently had she been able to identify it.  Terror.  Terror of people's indifference to the human value of others and terror of the ever-increasing violence."  (205)

See what I mean?  The slightly stilted construction, larger-than-necessary words, change in subject (she to you), obvious emotions (hunting, cynicism, indifference) - John le Carre would have said all that in about four sentences.  Actually, he wouldn't have written it at all. But I digress.  I'm just starting A Delicate Truth, and am in the thrall of that perfect use of language.  Since Detective Inspector Huss is a work in translation, and I don't speak Swedish, it is impossible to know if it the author or the translator, Steven T. Murray, who is the source.  I'm a little surprised to see this difficult writing coming from the usually reliable Soho Press, didn't anyone copy edit this book?  Given its surprising length - 371 pp. - I'm guessing maybe not.

That said, I did end up finishing this story, and would not turn away the next in the series.  It is a pleasure to read a story filled with interesting female characters.  Some are strong and together and generally wholesome like Our Hero Irene Huss.  And some are hysterical or slutty.  But Tursten is to be praised for offering an alternative to the male-dominated world of police procedurals.

In this story, a rich and famous man is murdered a few weeks before Christmas.  Everyone in his deeply dysfunctional family is a suspect, and when another  person is killed in an assassination attempt that is clearly directed toward the first dead guy, you know things are going to get complicated.   The story quickly spins outward to include adultery, gangsters, drug trafficking, skinheads, motorcycle gangs, and that evergreen staple of mysteries, missing keys.  I felt like it covered a lot, but you know, it did all kind of make sense in the end.

And, while I found the writing hard to follow, I loved the setting of  Göteborg , even if I couldn't pronounce half the names and had no idea where I was most of the time.  (Again, a map would help!  Why don't more books utilize them?  Mankel does, and it is so helpful.)  The subplot with the twin daughters turned out to be more interesting than I'd expected.  I think the whole thing did, actually, although the final scene (pre-epilogue) kind of wraps things up a little too neatly when the individual pretty much confesses to everything under careful questioning so all of our questions are quickly answered.

Should you read this book?  That depends on your tolerance level for awkward writing.  If you aren't distracted by it, then yes, you'll enjoy Huss.  If you are, step away from the victim.

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