Nordic Noir round-up: Helen Tursten, Gunnar Staalesen & Katja Kettu

Apologies for the lack of reviews on Crimepieces in the last two weeks. As well as promoting  the publication of the paperback of A Deadly Thaw, I’ve also been proofreading the next book in the series, A Patient Fury,  which is out in September. This hasn’t stopped me reading, however, and I’m finally catching up with my reviews.

First up is a summary of the Nordic books I’ve read.

51l2hlts9l-_sy344_bo1204203200_Helene Tursten is a Swedish writer who isn’t as well known in the UK as she deserves to be. Her novels, featuring detective Irene Huss, are well plotted police procedurals that, in the finest Scandi tradition, also draw readers into the personal lives of the characters.

In her latest book,  Who Watchetha man is stalking his women victims and sending them gifts before strangling them. An early victim who survived the attacks remembers his unpleasant smell but nothing else. Huss is also being persecuted by a cyber stalker who is unhappy with Huss’s involvement in an earlier case. It’s been a while since I read Tursten and I think she’s one of the best Nordic writers around. The prurient nature of the killings is never overdone and Who Watcheth is enhanced by a finale that isn’t overly dramatic. The  translation is by Marlaine Delargy.

whererosesneverdie300Another favourite writer of mine is Gunnar Staalesen. His latest book, Where Roses Never Diefeatures the resurrection of an investigation into the disappearance of a missing girl and the social dynamics of a small housing estate in the 1970s. Staalesen’s detective, Varg Veum, is in a sorry state, drinking heavily and forced to take on cases he would normally reject.

As we expect from Staalesen, social issues are combined with a fine murder plot but the multi layers of the deception that’s revealed makes Where Roses Never Die his best book yet. The translation is by Don Bartlett.

51gues2nt2l-_sx331_bo1204203200_Finally, I read in January an unusual and thought-provoking novel by a Finnish writer, Katja Kettu. In The Midwife, a woman unflatteringly named Weird-Eye by the small community where she delivers babies meets Johannes, a war photographer working for the SS. She takes a job as a nurse in a nearby prison camp to be near him but gets drawn into the mechanics of the surroundings as the war’s end draws near.

It’s a difficult book to review as I was completely captivated by the language of the story which must have been a joy to translate. The prose is earthy and brutal, describing a period in time where survival is a result of stamina, circumstance and finding a place in the community and landscape. I knew little of the stationing of German troops in northern Finland and the Lapp setting is woven into the narrative. The timeline makes for some challenging reading with the occasional inclusion of superfluous official documents but the story of Weird Eye is unique and moving. The excellent translation is by David Hackston.


Review: Helene Tursten – Night Rounds

The character of Detective Inspector Irene Huss has been hovering around my sub-conscience for a while, based mainly on reading some excellent reviews of the crime novels of Helene Tursten. This week I finally got around to reading this writer and was delighted to find a solid Scandinavian police procedural.

Night Rounds opens with the death of a nurse at the private Lowander Hospital in Goteborg, Sweden during a power cut. As a result of the loss of electricity, an ICU patient also dies and another nurse is discovered missing. Detective Irene Huss from the Violent Crimes Unit is called in to investigate and is dismayed by the account of an eye-witness who claims that the perpetrator was a nurse who was found hanged in the hospital’s attic sixty years earlier. The police reject a supernatural explanation and start to unpick the relationships and financial affairs of the hospital with interesting results. When a potential witness to the murder is found murdered, the police realise they have a deadly and possibly unhinged murderer to find quickly.

I have to confess I love a supernatural element in crime fiction and in Night Rounds it played only a minor but interesting role. I thought the plot was well constructed and kept the reader involved as we learned at the same time as the police how the case was unravelling. The plot was marred in a few places by some drastic omissions in the police investigation, for example their failure to search the attic where the ghostly nurse died until late in the case.

I found the character of Irene Huss is very engaging and the book is a nice balance between her professional work and her home life; looking after two teenage daughters, her busy chef husband and, not to forget, the dog Sammie. I particularly liked how the middle-aged Huss found some of the male witnesses attractive, which was a nice touch. Other characterisation was equally well done, with perhaps the exception of the bitchy pathologist Yvonne Stridner, whose unpleasantness really seemed extreme. The book was particularly good at showing the sexism that can arise in a predominately male team.

Although translated into English in 2012, the book was published in Sweden in 1999. Only in a few places did the narrative seem dated. At one point the detectives needed to consult a colleague to find out about a medical illness that would be easily searchable on a mobile phone today.  I’m looking forward to catching up with later books in the series and Irene Huss is now firmly on my radar.

I bought my copy of this book. Other reviews can be found at Petrona, Mysteries in Paradise and Murder by Type.