A decade later, Tursten’s inspector Huss still solves odd murders

Who Watcheth

Who Watcheth

By Helene Tursten. New York: Soho Press, 2016. 291 pages. ISBN: 9781616954048.

A series of ritualistic murders in Who Watcheth keeps a slightly older Detective Inspector Irene Huss busy as she continues to balance the demands of a two-career family in one of the most recent crime novels by Swedish writer Helene Tursten to be translated into English.

This time, women are being attacked and strangled to death, then wrapped in plastic and left in cemeteries. Before the crime, the killer sends the victim a single flower with a photograph and a Biblical reference suggesting she must pay for her sins.

It’s disturbing stuff, as so often the murders in Swedish crime fiction seem to be.

To date, Tursten has written 11 books featuring Huss. The first was Den krossade tanghästen in 1998, which appeared in English translation as Detective Inspector Huss in 2003. Who Watcheth was published in Swedish in 2010 as Den som vakar i mörkret. The only Huss story that has not yet been translated is 2002’s Kallt mord.

Huss lives and works in the western port city of Göteborg. Her husband, Krister, is an accomplished chef. In Who Watcheth, their two daughters, Jenny and Katarina, have reached adulthood and moved out, leaving a bit of a hole in Tursten’s usual narrative. Gone are the dinnertime disputes involving the drama of two teenage girls. Their beloved dog, Sammy, also is gone. Instead, Tursten in this story portrays Huss as a bit older woman settling in for the next phase of life.

Changes also have come to the police unit where Huss works. A new superintendent, who comes across as all business, has left the daily meetings a bit colder. Huss’ relationship with longtime friend Detective Inspector Tommy Persson also has cooled. And, surprisingly, even though Detective Inspector Jonny Blom is still part of the crew, his former misogyny is all but dissipated.

But that doesn’t mean Tursten has lost her edge. She’s acknowledging that we all change over time, even in crime fiction. (Read the late Henning Mankell’s treatment of Kurt Wallander to experience something similar, but from a male perspective.) And Huss remains an interesting character, albeit a bit more tired.

Reading Who Watcheth was a breeze, which for me is a sign of a well-crafted story. Of course, that means translator Marlaine Delargy deserves credit, too. She has brought several of Tursten’s novels to English-speaking audiences.

Who Watcheth is released in the United States by New York-based Soho Press, one of my favorite publishers. Its Soho Crime imprint includes a number of authors whose work I have devoured over the years, including Tursten, Cara Black, and Janwillem van de Wetering.