Wednesday, December 22, 2010
The Irene Huss videos, 2-6
I reviewed the first Irene Huss TV film, from Helene Tursten's series of crime novels set in Göteborg, a while ago, I'm just getting around to reviewing the rest of the first season because the disks I originally received were mislabeled, creating a bit of confusion as to what I was watching. All cleared up now.
The remaining films are 2. The Horse Figurine, 3. The Fire Dance, 4. The Night Round, 5. The Glass Devil, and 6. The Gold Digger. Of these 5, two (in addition to The Torso, already reviewed) are taken from novels already translated into English. SoHo Press has assured us that more of the novels are being translated, but I haven't heard which ones, yet.
The Horse Figurine was actually taken from the first novel to appear in English, translated as Detective Inspector Irene Huss, dealing with a wealthy man who falls from a balcony in the city, while his wife witnesses his death from a nearby taxi. The investigation leads to biker gangs, and to an apartment directly across from the fateful balcony, and along the way Huss's family is threatened.
The Fire Dance deals with serial arson, the stabbing death of an old woman, and an unsolved case from Irene's early career. The Night Round is a kind of ghost story, dealing with a murder on the staircase of an old hospital, murky goings-on among current staff, and the hospital's murky history.
The Glass Devil deals with religion, piety, satanism, and the murder of an entire family. The Gold Digger takes on propoerty developers, on-line poker, investment bubbles, and a possible affair on the part of Irene's seemingly model husband (a professional chef).
Translated to the small screen, all the stories are interesting, but all seem a bit too much like conventional TV cop shows (more so than the books, for some reason). Perhaps the things that make the books distinctive (Irene's very ordinary home life, struggling with two working parents, adolescent daughters, annoying neighbors, etc.) veers into sit-com or stock cop-show territory when produced for TV. Though all the secondary characters among the police get a certain amount of face-time, and all are characterized individually, the focus on Irene herself is also a bit more prominent when visualized for us on-screen.
Those are not major complaints, though—especially if compared to the rest of TV crime fare. Angela Kovacs as Irene is pitch perfect (not exactly how I imagined the character from the books, but better realized than my imaginary version), and the rest of the cast, including Bjarne Henriksen, Dag Malmberg, Eric Ericson, and Inga Landgré, is also very good, though working with material (in terms of their characters) that will be a bit familiar from cop shows around the world. A starring character is also the city of Göteborg and its surroundings, seen here not as a tourist mecca (which is may in fact not be) but as a gritty port city.
So: compared to Swedish TV crime series that rise far above the genre, Irene Huss perhaps gets 4 out of 5 stars. 5 stars would go to the original Martin Beck series starring Gösta Ekman, taken from 7 (I think) of the 10 novels by Sjöwall and Wahlöö (I think they never filmed the Laughing Policeman or the Locked Room, and The Abominable Man was filmed for the big screen by Bo Widerberg as Man on the Roof); 5 stars would also go to the original Wallander series for Swedish TV, starring Rolf Lassgård. The later Swedish series based on Beck and Wallander, starring Peter Haber and Krister Henriksson, as well as the U.K. Wallander, starring Kenneth Branagh, fall into the 4-star category for me, along with Irene Huss—so the Huss stories are definitely in good company (and highly recommended). The 5-star films are able to sustain a mood to a higher degree, and reach for (and mostly grasp) a wider scope than the 4-star ones, to me.
I'm happy to entertain other opinions about either set of rankings though—anyone have any thoughts? My only final thought is that I'm anticipating the translation of further Huss stories into English, whether they've been filmed or not—the novels are in the first rank of the Scandinavian crime wave.