Saturday, July 19, 2008


A large part of the enjoyment of reading Detective Inspector Huss is in the relationships between the various members of the  squad. In this matter Helene Tursten's book is similar in construction if not sheer quirkiness to the work of Fred Vargas, and  the classic Martin Beck series. There is a quite different feel to it from those books with just two investigators.
The tradition of Holmes and Watson has meant that the almost all the best known of British police procedurals seem to have just the two main investigators e.g. Dalziel and Pascoe, Wexford and Burden, Banks and Cabbot, Morse and Lewis.

There is a much greater variation in the Nordic novels ranging from Jo Nesbo's almost  solitary Harry Hole, Karin Fossum's twosome Sejer and Skarre, K.O.Dahl's Gunnarstranda and Frolich, Arnaldur Indridason's threesome Erlendur, Elinborg and Sigurdur Oli, up to the larger teams of Helene Tursten, Sjowall and Wahloo and Henning Mankell. 

"An extra job that pays more than her regular job. Guess what her day job is."

Birgitta looked around among her colleague, who were following her report with interest. "Stripper," "day-care worker," "nurse" were some of the suggestions.
Birgitta laughed and shook her head.

"Wrong, wrong! Librarian!"

Everyone round the table looked disappointed. None of them had imagined such a genuinely musty occupation. 
Jonny Blom whispered to Fredrik Stridh, "Ha, the driest bushes burn the best!"

I would certainly not subscribe to the opinion that librarians or libraries are musty or dull. I find both absolutely fascinating and exciting. 

Is a close team working together in relative harmony a more accurate portrayal of police work than the eccentric insubordinate lone wolf ? 


Blogger Kerrie said...

An interesting question. It might explain why in the TV series they gave Jack Frost and offsider (George Doolan) when in the books he is a lone wolf.
I've just reviewed A KILLING FROST

3:29 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

I have enjoyed the few TV episodes of Frost that I have watched, and of course David Jason is superb. But I have never read any of the books.
Your review has certainly interested me in this series, although at my reading pace I will have to live to a 100 to clear my TBR pile.

1:31 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

The generally harmonious team -- there is usually someone who is out of step in some way -- is surely more realistic. I seconded Maxine's assessment of Tursten on Petrona, including the passing of the Sjowall/Wahloo mantle, having read Detective Inspector Huss, and The Torso convinces me the more. She has a template, but, pace Murder Most Boring, it demonstrates the intriguing changes that can be rung upon the same set of bells. Scandinavians rather favour the team approach, and I have noticed also (and I wonder if this is the case in those lands)that hierarchy within the team is often blurred. I have in some cases been rather unsure who was really running the show.

Harmony and the restoration of harmony features elsewhere in the first Huss, and I hope I am not alone in thinking that the branding of the books by the publisher as 'Sweden's Prime Suspect' was peculiarly assine and misleading, and compounded by the equally nescient review on the back putting it "...alongside the best feminine hardboiled novels currently being written" by McDermid, Cody, and Paretsky. There's not you can say about things that daft, but I will just observe that it is precisely the ways in which Huss and her world differ from Prime Suspect that gives the books a particular distinction.

I noticed that Tursten's translator is Steven Murray, who also translated the books of Karin Alvtegen, and those too have a place very high up on my list. A quotation on the cover likening her to Ruth Rendell is, for once, very much on the mark. Penguin's own blurb that her works are "Reminiscent of Patricia Highsmith and Henning Mankell...", on the other hand, makes about as much sense as saying I look like Margaret Rutherford and Brad Pitt. Which I do not, by the way.

3:53 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

You are right Philip not harmonious all the time.
It shows I should not have made a comment until I had read further into the book.
I think Scandinavians have generally a bit less of a class structure than the English. That was the case in the early 90s but perhaps things have changed now with the influx of immigrants. I think the sharp divisions between management and workers are one of the main reasons our economy has faltered over the years. Scandinavians and North Americans seem to work better in a team than do the British.

Jane Tennison is a woman, Irene Huss is a woman therefore Helene Tursten has written 'Sweden's Prime Suspect'! It obviously took a lot of thought to come up the comparison with Prime Suspect.

Your Pitt/Rutherford analogy made me think of Rigsby in the comedy series Rising Damp. He says that watching the film Mrs Miniver reminds him of his wife. 'Why did she look like Greer Garson?' 'No Walter Pidgeon'.

I have read only one Karen Alvtegen 'Betrayed' and it kept me glued to the page wondering what would happen next.

Who would be your top five among the multitude of Nordic crime writers?

5:34 AM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Sorry that is probably an unfair question there are just too many writers.

5:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that picture of Mystery Readers Journal: I meant to order a copy when Peter wrote his article in it (and blogged about it) last year, but I forgot. Now you have reminded me, so I've ordered this issue. I hadn't read Tursten when I read Peter's 2007 post, but of course have now, so will look forward to reading the issue for that and many other reasons.

I have just finished the third H Tursten (The Glass Devil) and very much enjoyed it. It is quite bleak (bleaker than the other two) but again, unsensational, clear-eyed, and seen through the police team's view.

Incidentally, Philip mentions that the first book is translated by Steven T Murray, but the second two have a different translator, who is not as good, I think. (We still get the footnotes for metres, pounds, etc).

Frost: love the books. Far less cuddly than the TV (of which I have not seen very much), and delightfully crude, funny and politically incorrect. If Peter has not read these, he might like them for his "humourous crime" collection.

12:12 PM  
Blogger Uriah Robinson said...

Thanks Maxine, I am really enjoying the Tursten.
I am about 200 pages in and Irene Huss certainly has a lot on her plate with a job and a family. It is lucky her husband is a chef!

12:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, Norm, I did not answer your main question and I am not sure that I can, but I shall think about it. In the meantime, you might like Karen's first post-Harrogate post at Euro Crime!
You were sorely missed. (not least in the quiz)

12:47 PM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

Norm, I can hear Leonard Rossiter delivering that line. Classic stuff and thanks for a good chuckle.

You are quite right -- I really can't answer that question, but, as is your wont, you gave me pause to think. I have read 12 Nordic crime novelists currently writing -- I include the Icelandic and, concurring with Maxine on this, also the German Jan Costin Wagner's novels, set in Finland where he sojourns half the year. It is significant that only one of these, Ann Holt, shall I not be returning to; in fact, I ditched whichever one of hers I started after a couple of chapters. I was unhappy on all counts, and I am more than a little fed up with all this 'intuitive FBI-trained profiler' nonsense. There's a myth if ever there were one. But the point is that 11 out of 12 ranging in quality from good to extraordinarily fine is a very good record indeed. And it is, let me say, very considerably better than the results of my taking up British writers, new to me, in recent times.

Of the 11, there are 8 of whom I am particularly fond, but there's no point in listing those, particularly as I am waiting to get my paws on Theorin, Stieg Larsson, K.O. Dahl, Lackberg, and Sigurdardottir, at least two of whom, from comments I have read, might cause an immediate revision of my rankings.

12:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I like Wagner too, Philip, though I have only read The Ice Moon (I think that is the only one obtainable in the UK). I like Larsson (Steig) and Larsson (Asa), Lisa Marklund of course (a big favourite), Ake Edwardsen and the only Kjell Erikssen I've read, Princess of Burundi. (Karen of Euro Crime has read the next one and says it is a disappointment).
Norm has very kindly just sent me the "Euro Crime reading copy" of Lackberg's Ice Princess, so I am looking forward to that. I have two Ann Holts to read so am now dreading that! I also liked The Serbian Dane by Leif Davidson, and the extremely claustrophobic "The Exception" by Christian Jungerson.
I have not yet read K O Dahl or Sigurdadottir, but will.
Oh, riches indeed, we are all quite spoiled. I still have seven of the Wahloo/Sjowall books to go, so I am doubly lucky.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

It is indeed an embarrassment of riches, Maxine, and as you have been much more intrepid than I in my earlier comment and named names, I'll follow suit and identify the eight I said I particularly favour, in no particular order: Karin Alvtegen, Arnaldur Indridason, Asa Larsson, Helene Tursten, Henning Mankell, Jo Nesbo, Karin Fossum, and Kjell Eriksson. But that is not at all to disparage the other three I've read: Ake Edwardson, Hakan Nesser, and Jan Costin Wagner. It's a fine run thing.

I do hope you enjoy the two Holts you have in hand. Reviews have been somewhat mixed, but most seem on the positive side, and I may well have picked the wrong book -- I can't remember which one it was now, but there is one that has been reviewed less favourably than others.

1:55 PM  

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