The Beige Man by Helene Tursten – a review

The latest issue of Revewing the Evidence includes some tempting new mysteries. Be sure to check it out. Meanwhile, with the kind permission of RTE’s editor, is a repost of my latest review – a newly translated entry in the Swedish police procedural featuring Irene Huss.

THE BEIGE MAN 
by Helen Tursten and Madeleine Delargy, trans.
Soho, February 2015

Helene Tursten’s police procedural series, set in Göteborg, Sweden’s second-largest city, does a good job of straddling the line between dark, gritty realism and a more lighthearted and hopeful view of the world. That balancing act is featured in the latest of the series to be translated into English, first published in 2007.

The port city of Göteborg is trapped in a particularly nasty winter storm when two delinquents, joy riding in a stolen car, strike and kill a retired policeman. As the police pursue the fleeing pair, they find the car abandoned and follow the trail into the woods with tracker dogs, who alert to a root cellar. When they open the doors, they find something unexpected: the body of a young girl, sexually abused and strangled. She seems to have been a sex trafficking victim who had reached the end of her exploitable life. The two investigations are full of open questions: who stole the car? What was “Muesli,” the retired police officer who’d earned a reputation for being boringly unremarkable, doing on that street in the night without his coat? Who was the girl whose body was accidentally discovered on the same night as Muesli’s hit-and-run, and what is behind her tragic, sordid fate?

As readers have come to expect from Swedish crime fiction, the plot exposes and explores an unsavory aspectThe Beige Man cover of contemporary life in Scandinavia. Detective Irene Huss learns more than she ever wanted to know about a brutal international trade in sex slaves. The girl whose death she investigates (nicknamed by the team “the Little Russian” because she has no other name to go by) appears to have been brought to Sweden by a criminal gang moving girls from one country to another with false passports, never staying in one place long enough to be caught. This particular victim had been suffering from a serious infection and, no longer able to perform, had been disposed of like trash. Irene follows a lead to Tenerife, where she finds it hard to distinguish between criminal gangs and law enforcement authorities. Long-time readers of this series will recall other times when investigations have lead Irene abroad, offering a contrast between societies as well as a chance for Irene to get into real trouble.

As Irene peers into the darker depths of human behavior, she also faces challenges at home. Her daughters are leaving the nest, her elderly mother is unwell, and worst of all, her beloved dog Sammie is nearing the end of his life. These domestic threads are the weft of the series, holding stories about violence together in a reassuring and refreshingly ordinary domestic pattern. This may be drawback for readers looking for a high-tension story arc, but this intricately-plotted mix of light and darkness connects serious social problems to a world that looks very familiar, making those issues more unavoidably real.

Looking forward to . . .

Fire DanceI just got the Soho fall catalog in the mail and two books are ones of particular interest to anyone who reads Scandinavian crime. The sixth book in the Irene Huss series, The Fire Dance, will be published in January 2014. It involves Huss in the investigation of the arson murder of a young dancer who, it turns out, had been involved in an earlier homicide case, when Huss was just starting out. The description ends with the intriguing question: “can a child be responsible for the cold-blooded murder of an adult?”

The other forthcoming book, due out in November, is the third book in the Nina Borg series from Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Death of a Nightingale. In this novel, Nina Borg (the prickly Red Cross nurse with a social conscience and a death of a nightingaletalent for torpedoing her domestic life) wonders if a Ukrainian immigrant who has escaped the police who want to interrogate her in connection with her abusive Danish fiance’s murder could possibly be a killer – a question that grows urgent when the woman’s young daughter is abducted. The answer to that puzzle has its roots in the terrible famine in 1930s Ukraine. I remember the authors speaking about this book and the research it involved when they were in Minnesota last fall.

 

I’m looking forward to both books.

tidbits and more reviews

Some tidbits . . .

There is a new imprint for translated fiction coming from Little Brown and Crown. From the press release:

Trapdoor will publish up to six commercial crime, suspense and thriller titles a year, all in translation, and will be launched with the publication of Sebastian Bergman by Hjorth and Rosenfeldt in paperback on July 5th. Spring 2013 will see the publication of the second title on the Trapdoor imprint, The Devil’s Sanctuary, a heart-stopping psychological thriller by Swedish bestseller Marie Hermanson.

Julia Buckley interviews Ake Edwardson at Mysterious Musings. He says “I’m a sad person, or melancholic, and down right pessimistic most of the time. Probably that’s why I laugh so much; you have to laugh at all the madness around you or you’ll go stark raving mad, start running screaming through the streets naked in the night with just your underwear in your hand.” He also says, when asked about the state of journalism,

“… the good and serious stuff goes slowly/fast down the drain, the horror of banality takes over, knowledge gets confused with information. Still there’s wonderful journalism out there; Sweden tries to maintain decent newspapers, and the best papers in USA, England, France and Germany are still worth reading/working for. The problem is of course that good journalism is expensive, objectivity is expensive, to send a reporter to the other side of the world is expensive, or have a team work on some investigation for a long time.”

Erik Winter, his police protagonist, is a “hopeful person” – making me think perhaps Edwardson, like many journalists, finds fiction a way to say what needs saying in a way that is an alternative to the underwear-in-hand approach.

Camilla Lackberg is profiled in SCANmagazine (thank you, Philip) as she publishes more of her popular Fjalbacka-based series in  both the UK and US.

Publishing Perspectives covers the Salomonsson Agency, a Swedish powerhouse that represents many of the most successful Nordic crime authors. It’s a far sunnier picture than Sarah Weinman’s profile of the agency’s head last year.

At the Telegraph, Henning Mankell says that Kenneth Branagh makes a good hand of playing Wallander and likes the BBC film versions of his books. The article has quite a few insights into the author as well (and has collected some remarkably hostile and silly comments).

American cable television station A&E (which does not stand for Accident and Emergency, contrary to UK usage) has acquired US rights to create a pilot of a series to be based on Elsebeth Egholm’s crime series.  Or rather based on a Danish television series based on the books. And probably moved to a US setting. There is a reason I prefer reading to watching television.

And now for the reviews . . .

Sarah at Crimepieces reviews Helene Tursten’s Night Rounds, finding it a well-done police procedural with a touch of the supernatural, which she enjoys, and a solid plot, though with some startling lapses on the part of otherwise competent police. She also reviews the second book in Thomas Enger’s Henning Juul series, Pierced, which she feels picks up the story about Juul’s dead son very movingly. Enger has become a “must-buy” author for her.

Maxine Clarke reviews Killer’s Island by Anna Jansson at Petrona and finds it a quick read that does more to develop the characters than to provide a realistic story line – mainly because all of the puzzle pieces snap together a bit too tidily, with none left over.  It’s altogether a rather old-fashioned read. Glenn Harper also reviews it, and a television series based on Jansson’s work. He finds it a bit overwritten in places, but predicts it will be of interest to those who enjoy getting caught up in the character’s personal lives, likening it to Camilla Lackberg’s work.

Maxine also reviews Ake Edwardson’s Sail of Stone, which she finds a good read, though not a very good mystery (and the second half, minus the not-very-satisfactory ending, is better than the first.)

And at Euro Crime, she reviews Camilla Lackberg’s The Drowning, which she feels has a good 250-page mystery hidden within its 500 pages, much of which is devoted to the domestic lives of its detective protagonist.

Peter Rozovsky reviews Lars Keppler’s The Nightmare for the Philadelphia Inquirer, then hosts a conversation at his Detectives Beyond Borders literary salon, asking whether it’s entirely a good thing to mix potboiler fun with serious social messages. On the whole, he finds this kind of “Larsson-y” an unhappy blend.

Kimbofo at Reading Matters reads The Caller by Karin Fossum. Fossum is one of her favorite authors, and this well-plotted, nuanced story is, to her mind, one of her best.  She also reviews The Boy in the Suitcase by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, which she finds a bit of a challenging read because of the multiple viewpoints, but feels it is “an intelligent, involving and compassionate read.”

Jose Ignacio Escribano reviews the final volume of Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo’s “story of a crime” – The Terrorists, which he notes has not lost its relevance. He includes links to his reviews of other books in the series and says “I strongly recommend reading this series to everyone, in particular to all crime fiction fans and, if possible, in chronological order. It’s a highly rewarding read.”

Karen Meek, a true Queen of Crime if there ever was one (bringing us the amazing Euro Crime site) reviews The Gingerbread House by Carin Gerhardsen, which she finds a successful exploration of childhood bullying, though with a decidedly American translation.  She also reviews the very first volume of the Konrad Sejer/Jacob Skarre series, finally published in English translation. In the Darkness introduces Sejer with a bit more background that later books, and though published originally in 1995 it still works because, as Karen points out, Fossum’s work has something of a “timeless quality.”

Ms. Wordopolis reads Jo Nesbo’s The Redbreast, and though finding the wartime scenes confusing and not engaging, she ended up taken by the characters. Though it’s her first foray into the Harry Hole series, she puts her finger on one of the author’s characteristics: extremely intricate, even convoluted plotting.

Norm at Crime Scraps reviews Arnaldur Indridason’s Black Skies, the latest in the Erlendur series in which Erlunder is absent and the focus this time is on Sigurdur Oli. Though he was never my favorite character, Norm makes me impatient to read it. Rob Kitchin found it less successful, with the first half particularly hard to get into.

He also reviews another book I want to read badly, Anne Holt’s The Blind Goddess, which he thinks is quite good, featuring a character who has changed quite a lot (and not for the better) in 1222 – and he adds some intriguing commentary on what it says about the time period when it was originally published, 1993.

At Euro Crime, Maxine Clarke reviews The Blind Goddess, the first of Anne Holt’s Hanne Wilhelmsen series and (in her opinion) a better book than the previously translated eighth in the series, 1222. In addition to a plot that works well, this book includes strong characters and full of detail that reflects the author’s background in the Norwegian legal system.

Bernadette reviews Liza Marklund’s Last Will, and gives it high marks for the way it depicts the current world of the news media, treats several explosive issues with an even hand, and gives us a complex heroine. “I can’t say that I like Annika,” she writes, “but I like reading about her and find her a hundred percent credible.” One of the rather cliched baddies, not so much – but overall she gives the book top marks.

She also reviews Karin Wahlberg’s Death of a Carpet Dealer and finds it an engaging story which offers a trip to Turkey as an added benefit. Maxine also reviews it at Petrona, finding it readable, old-fashioned, and pleasant, if not a barn-burner of a story.

Kerrie in Paradise reviews Hakan Nesser’s The Mind’s Eye, the first of the Van Veeteren series, which she finds nicely compact in these days of over-long books.

Raven Crime Reads (a new to me blog) reviews Arne Dahl’s The Blinded Man (published in the US as Misterioso) calling it “taut and well-written” and the start of a series worth watching.

Cathy at Kittling Books reviews Sara Blaedel’s second book to be available in English (and third in its series), Only One Life, which she thought fell short of the mark. Though it has some interesting information about honor killings, she couldn’t warm to the characters, and felt as if from page one ” as though I’d missed my bus and kept chasing after it as it disappeared down the street.”

Glenn Harper thinks Carin Gerhardsen’s The Gingerbread House quite good (except for a bit where exposition bogs things down) and particularly handy with misdirection.  Jose Ignacio also reviews it, calling it a classic police procedural that is somewhat uneven in its execution.

And finally, Margot Kinberg takes a close look at Irene Huss, Helene Tursten’s series protagonist, providing quite a thorough biography of the character, one of my favorites.

Before I sign off, I must give credit once again to the place where I keep up with all things mysterious, the Crime and Mystery Fiction FriendFeed room. Many thanks to its founder, Maxine Clarke, and its regular contributors for filling me in. If you enjoy mysteries, this is a site to visit regularly.