Sunday, April 09, 2006

Helene Tursten's The Torso suffers from a couple of problems with respect to the noir tradition (or anti-tradition, as may be). The first is one I mentioned in my last post, a certain woodenness in the language that I would (without any evidence) attribute to the translator. The woodenness reflects some aspects of the Swedish language--for one thing, if you translate some Swedish swear-words more or less literally, they sound pretty mild, so that in this translation, the main character (detective Irene Huss) says things like "Yipes" when we would (in American or even more so British spoken language) expect "Fuck." I can't exactly fault the translator in respect to instances like that, but I might hope for a livelier equivalent to Swedish expressions like "djävlar," which literally means "devils" and is short for "a thousand devils," but is used more like "damn" in English. The other problem is one that Tursten shares with the better-known books of Henning Mankell--a reflection of the "political correctness" of Swedish culture. In one of the early Wallander books by Mankell, the main character is devastated by being caught for driving under the influence, hardly the cause for much soul-searching in non-Scandinavian crime fiction. Tursten's police squad, and in particular detective Huss, seem inordinately shocked in The Torso by fairly straightforward kinky sex, and a bit self-righteous about smoking and other non-sexual sins. Still, these attitudes of the Swedish characters are believably contrasted in The Torso with more worldy attitudes of the Copenhagen police detectives who figure in this novel prominently. Overall, I found The Torso to be pretty effective as a noir-ish police procedural, and actually fun to read (except for the annoyances mentioned above), though there's one more flaw I could mention--that old cliche the "snuff film" makes a guest appearance here. Fortunately the plot doesn't turn on that mythic video genre, but on a more gruesome and believable genre of serial killers, involving necrophilia. On balance, then, I wold recommend The Torso, which in some ways is better than the Wallander books, if you think like I do that the morose Wallander is getting a little tiresome--if Huss's family life is a little too sunny, perhaps some of the other Scandinavian crime novels coming out this spring will prove to be a better balance. The next novel I'll be dealing with, The Beast, by Roslund and Hellström, is not a police procedural at all, so it will likely be either a contrast or (even better) an antidote to the various excesses or failings of these more prominent (in the U.S. anyway) Swedes.

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