Friday, March 7, 2014

The Fire Dance

I mentioned last time that I really dislike reading series out of order.  In the case of Helene Tursten's Inspector Huss series, jumping from the beginning to the most recent as I have with The Fire Dance (2005; Soho Press in translation 2014) has been a benefit.  Missing the middle six books has kept me from reading the at-times cringe-inducingly banal prose that is the major flaw of this otherwise perfectly pleasant series.

The Irene Huss books can clearly stand alone, as I didn't feel particularly out of the loop on any plot elements that might have been pulled forward from earlier books.  In fact, the few references that stood out were to the very first book, reviewed here.  In The Fire Dance our appealing Heroine, Irene, is investigating the disappearance and obvious murder of a young woman named Sophie Malmborg, who had been a central, if enigmatic, figure in a case Irene had been involved with 15 years earlier.  The earlier situation had involved a death in a fire, and much suspicion was leveled at Sophie, although nothing was ever proved.  Her death now in a fire raises all kinds of question about her and her family's involvement in the earlier affair.  Sophie is a complicated case - a dancer, with a pretty dysfunctional family, and some behavioral issues of her own.  Unlike in the first book I read, Irene mostly investigates this situation on her own, with just support from a few of her colleagues.

Is the point of the great boom in Nordic crime that we're supposed to feel happily horrified that such crimes and behavioral exist in otherwise placid, healthy Scandinavia?  Delighted that those otherwise competent and practical and above all unemotional Norsemen and women in fact have some pretty nasty stuff going on inside?  So, okay, but I never feel entirely sucked in to these stories like I do with some others.  I do wonder if it is the aspect of reading in translation.  One feels here, and in Henning Mankel's works as well, at some slight remove from everything, like you are watching the story unfold through a tidy window.  And then there is the depression, the endless soul-sucking depression, which is of course central to Mankel's Hero Kurt Wallander and even shows up here with Irene.  She's not as morose as Wallander, but her constant questioning of her efforts at work at home tempers my engagement with the story.  Not that I want a superwoman or jolly-hockey-sticks Heroine, but I can't help thinking that everyone here has a case of SAD and just needs a good vacation.  Which is entirely possible, given how dark in can get in the winter in these parts, and then of course everyone knows how they all go crazy around midsummer.

But I digress.  In terms of plot, I'd had the key aspect figured out pretty quickly - it is kind of obviously presented - so the final bit in which all is revealed is actually just more explanatory than revelatory.  Some other crimes factor in here, and Irene's teenage twins figure engagingly if ultimately peripherally in the plot.  Their participation does add a frisson of tension - will Katarina get caught up in something?  But the whole bit about the overworked Krister (her husband) and his breakdown, just feels tacked on and unnecessary.  Maybe it is supposed to mirror the thread about mental illness but I didn't see it.

In fairness, I have to say that what irritated me about the writing in the first book, and on my initial foray into this latest one, did seem to drop away as I picked the book up for a second go-round.  I think it is just that there is too much too carefully explained.  Example:
"They'd deviated from the line of questioning Irene had intended to follow before the meeting and she was now improvising.  The whole idea had been to get Sophie to talk.  Still, Irene felt that there were many other questions in this investigation that still needed answers.  With each response, a whole new bevy sprang up.  Perhaps Irene would still get a few pieces of the puzzle from the mother."  (25)
Bevy of questions, pieces of the puzzle - the vocabulary is trite, and we've heard several times in the preceding pages that the point of the interview was to get the silent Sophie to talk and to get info from the mother as well.  Does the author really write this way, or is the translator just hyper-conscientious?  Either way, it doesn't serve the story well, and makes one read a bit fast and on the surface.  All of this said, I like Irene, despite her endless debates about whether she's serving her work and her family and herself well enough.  I like reading about Goteborg, and trying to pronounce the Swedish place names.  This series isn't bad, far from it, but it hasn't put down roots on my bookshelf.

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