Wednesday, April 04, 2007

The Glass Devil (Helene Tursten)

Back when I read the first of this Swedish author's novels about Detective Inspector Irene Huss to be translated into English, I noted the protagonist's impressive ability to integrate a sane family life with the schedule of a hard-working investigator of homicides. I also noted that the author seemed less able than her heroine to accomplish that difficult juggling act. A subplot about a flirtation with neo-Nazism by one of Irene Huss's daughters seemed grafted on. It had no especial connection with the principal plot, and it was not subordinated; Tursten gave it so prominent a weight that it seemed to me awkward and tendentious, a forced effort to prove a point.
Here, the subplots are, if I remember correctly, more numerous, yet more lightly sketched and hence far more successful at conveying the texture of a life as lived by a hard-working, self-aware, observant and socially conscious woman, mother, wife, and lead investigator of brutal killings. I especially enjoyed one delightful exchange between Huss and one of her daughters on the subject of a boyfriend who has been cruel to the daughter. I think it safe to say that a man is unlikely to write an exchange like this one any time soon.
I realized early on that Tursten was going to show here where she had told in the earlier novel, Detective Inspector Huss. And so I appreciated Irene Huss's observations of her male colleagues during meetings, absorbing what I needed to know about her observational skills at the same time as I absorbed the details of the story; neither interfered with the other. And such observations are a significant part of the novel.
Perhaps they are significant in any story about a good detective, but I may have noticed it more here because of Tursten's frequent descriptions of beautiful women Irene Huss encounters during the investigation. I had not often encountered descriptions of beautiful women, at least not in crime fiction, that were not at the same time descriptions of sexual desire on the part of the author, the narrator or both. Art historians a few years ago used to write about the male gaze, that combination of desire and possession with which male painters looked on their female subjects. Perhaps there is a quite different female gaze as well.
But yes, this is a crime story, and Tursten tells this one with greater technical skill than I remember in Detective Inspector Huss, including a masterly piece of misdirection that is all the more impressive because it at first seems like a cheat or a lapse. A young man and then his parents are found shot dead, and the investigation takes Irene Huss to England to interview a relative of the victim's but also, I suspect, so Tursten could share pleasant and occasionally surprising memories of a first visit to London.
Tursten plants a convincing red herring, explained eventually by the character who has planted it, and explained earnestly, of course. Author, characters and setting are Swedish, after all. I'll say no more other than that The Glass Devil worked for me as a crime story and as a mystery as well.
(Tursten has written eight novels about Irene Huss, according to Tursten's Swedish Wikipedia biography. The Glass Devil is the fifth, according to the list. It is the third and most recent to be translated into English.)

© Peter Rozovsky 2007

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Blogger Maxine Clarke said...

I have come to this post a bit late, Peter, but Karen at Euro Criime reviewed "Torso" by this author a couple of months ago. She liked it, I recall. Karen Chisholm on Aust Crime Fiction/Its a Crime has also just reviewed it.
I haven't read any of this author-- not sure if she sounds quite my cup of tea (especially the Torso).

April 10, 2007  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

It's never too late to post. Mass media, especially blogging, have compressed the past to the point where there is no significant difference between it and the present. Last year's post is accessible as yesterday's.

So, what turns you off about Tursten?

I have read that The Torso contains rather graphic descriptions of killings. Detective Inspector Huss has a moment or two of uncomfortable (threatened) violence, and the crimes in The Glass Devil are not especially pleasant. But such moments in no way constitute the books' dominant tone. There is one harrowing section of The Glass Devil, but the focus is much more on Irene Huss and her observations of her colleagues, the suspects and her surroundings.

I'd say her stance on spectacularly violent crime is something like Henning Mankell's, and forgive me if I've told you this anecdote before. Mankell's books don't drag the readers through hells of torture and dismemberment, but they do describe the aftermaths of some extremely violent slayings. I was at a reading where someone asked him why he includes such graphic scenes, and he replied simply that he writes about such killings because such killings really happen.

April 10, 2007  

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