Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Torso by Helene Tursten

29. The Torso (Swedish title, Tatuerad Torso) - second in the Inspector Huss series
by Helene Tursten
translated by Katarina E. Tucker
mystery, 2000; English translation 2006
finished, 5/30/10

As I sit down to write this book report, it is a beautiful, really perfect early June day. The sun is shining, the temperature is warm but not hot, flowers are in bloom. The story in The Torso doesn't seem to belong. Horrific deeds shouldn't happen period, but especially not on such a blessed day. Well, we know that isn't true. Ugliness is juxtaposed with beauty every minute.

The book takes place in this same season.
The rain had slowed to a drizzle. The air was fresh but still mild. Steam rising from the warm earth smelled good. The early summer foliage was at its most beautiful and everything breathed hope in the face of the oncoming summer.
You know that a book called The Torso is not going to be pretty. The torso is found by a black Labrador in a little children's pool on the ocean front. It is in a black plastic bag. And to make it even worse, the internal organs have been removed. I'm sure I can feel you wincing, as I did myself. And you may be wondering, how could she read on. Well, it wasn't easy going in some parts, but honestly, I am so fond of Irene Huss that I'm willing to follow along on her cases regardless of how tawdry.

It is quite different reading crime fiction written by a woman.
After almost twenty years as a police officer she had seen everything, but not all at once. That was what nauseated her about this area. ... She felt violated and degraded as a woman.
The investigation leads to a similar crime in Copenhagen, Denmark, and so Irene and her fellow workers travel back and forth from their home in Göteborg (Gothenburg), Sweden over to Copenhagen.

In the ferry bathroom, Irene sees a yellow plastic tub hanging on the wall with a sign 'used syringes.' And in the hotel, she finds a tourist guide with a section called, 'Copenhagen After Dark.' These are little hints of the kind of experiences she will have in the city.

While in Copenhagen, there is an additional, more personal job that Irene must do. A former neighbor of Irene's has asked if she can find her daughter.
"She won a beauty contest last summer and after that she wanted only one thing ... to become a photo model. She refused to continue going to high school. And she had also had contact with a modeling agency in Copenhagen."
Irene jumped in. "How did she get in touch with the agency?"
"Through an ad. They were looking for Swedish girls who were willing to work in Copenhagen."
What the mother knows (or thinks she knows) is that the girl had gotten in touch with a female photographer. The trip was arranged and the photography agency set up an apartment for the girl and two other girls seeking the same employment. The mother hadn't been over to visit, though the daughter had called her off and on, sounding busy and happy.

When Irene gets to Copenhagen, she is told by her colleagues there that:
Copenhagen lures hordes of young girls, consumes them, and spills them out onto the trash heap after a few years. They often come here with dreams of making a career in the theater or as photo models. The reality is something completely different.
You may have heard the song, Wonderful, Wonderful Copenhagen; well,The Torso shows us another side - scary, seedy Copenhagen. I guess every place has its dark underbelly but this one seemed particularly bad and sad.

I need to stress that this book deals with some very sordid stuff. Irene is disgusted, and also feels a sense of guilt because a later murder may have occurred because of her investigations.
She had never reacted so strongly to a murder investigation before. ... She wanted vengeance. She wanted to avenge herself for having been used for the killer's purpose.
Even as I write the warning, I want to say that I really, really liked this book, as I did Detective Inspector Huss. The pace is so fine, so right. And the life the police inspectors lead as they are working on a case is well-described. We read of the restaurants they visit and what they eat and drink. Irene's clothes are noted. Even as they are involved in such gruesome crimes, they still must live their lives. We discover that one of the policemen has a drinking problem, and that two others are getting married. Irene's home life isn't as problematical as in the first book, but still the girls are now nearly seventeen, and becoming more separate from the family life. There may be a new puppy joining the family; a son of their dog Sammie. The relationship with her husband is still strong, though she does find herself attracted to a man on the police force in Denmark. What I am trying to say is that these books aren't all about the crimes. Rather they are about the solving of the crimes, the slow, slow process involved in gathering clues, the part that luck plays, the hard work involved. As I noted in Detective Inspector Huss, I've not read any mystery, any crime novel that has showed so truly and honestly the process, the procedure, the actual job of the police. And the officers aren't spared grief. Sometimes their own families are involved in criminal atrocities.

Unless we are involved in a crime, we can turn away from the horrors, but this series shows how those affected, and the police who must solve those crimes have to stay the course until the murderer has been found. This case has a particularly surprising ending that felt just right to me. I have the third in the series, and so far the last, on my shelf which I will begin soon. Tursten is an amazing writer.


  1. oh oh - another Scandinavian crime novel - I can't keep up with all the ones I want to read

    just finished The Man from Beijing and now reading Don't Look Back by Karin Fossum - waiting on the night table is The Man on the Balcony by Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo and listening to The Laughing Policeman by same authors. Apparently it was made into a movie starring Walter Matthau in 1973

    and a hold at the library for The Stone Cutter by Camilla Lackberg - read her first book some time ago

    I looked at Detective Inspector Huss at the library, but the print was too small for my old eyes

  2. I've got to get ahold of the Sjowall and Wahloo ones. They are mentioned in the cozy series I'm so enjoying- Death On Demand and the 2nd one which I've just started. I want to read every single one you mentioned. I can't get enough!
    The edition I have is Soho Crime. I'd send it to you but Tom hasn't read it yet, and I seriously might read it again!

  3. here's a list you might like


    Powells is my favorite place in Portland, Oregon - they have about five floors and a great coffee shop

  4. I so love the way that you wrote your review..made me feel I was there. Definitely an interesting book and one that deserves to be looked into further by me!

  5. I have the first Inspector Huss from my library, at your suggestion, and am still at the early part of the book, but enjoying it very much. So thanks!

    You might enjoy Colin Cotterill's Dr. Siri Paibourne series...It gets a bit odd at times, but is fascinating. It's set in Laos and a friend who is an anthropologist who worked in Thailand at the time these were written says he's got the culture down pat.

  6. Janice, thanks so much for the Powell's link. I just this minute ordered from book depository (the US site) the first by Camilla Lackberg, and the second and fourth (I have the third on my shelf) by Arnaldur Indridason. It's just so thrilling!

    Staci, you might want to read the first one first because she does refer back to that case a little. Thank you for your kind words.

    Kristi, it is always so hard to recommend a book to anyone. I try hard to explain what a book is all about so the person will know if it is for her or not. So glad you are liking it! And I have the first two Cotterill books on my shelf waiting for me. I really look forward to them. I love the first title. One wonders how a coroner does indeed eat lunch after doing his work. :<)

  7. You did a really good job on this review. I'm still a little in shock that you are reading this series, but I guess the family dynamics help? You're making a lot of converts to Scandinavian mysteries! :-)

  8. Wow. I'm surprised you read this one, Nan. But in spite of the gruesome details of the crime(s), it sounds like a wonderful book! I'll have to add these books to my TBR list.

    Excellent, excellent review, by the way! I have three to write and I'm drawing a blank with the first. It's been 2 weeks since I finished it and I can't find much to say at this point other than "I liked it." ;)

  9. Kay and Les, Thank you both! Tom and I are both a little shocked too! I'll tell him something gross and he'll say he can't believe I'm reading it. It isn't really just the family life she has (or honestly the lack - her daughter often says her mother is never home), but the connections with the other police and how they work as a team. And as I wrote, I love the way the reader gets to see how a crime is solved.


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