A mummified corpse is found during the demolition of a building in Göteberg. A man waits under cover of a dark night with a loaded gun and murder on his mind. A young girl is found dead, wearing days-of-the-week underpants (“Sunday”); another girl is found, also dead, in the matching bra. And in the background, a gang war, marked by car bombs and retaliatory assassinations, rages across the streets of the Swedish city.
“So it’s only the beginning of May, and we’ve already had our murdered teenage girl of the summer. Along with another one, just to be on the safe side. On the same day,” notes a weary Violent Crimes Unit colleague of Detective Inspector Irene Huss. That Huss and her colleagues have their hands full might be a bit of an understatement in this particular case: The tricky and intriguing investigations into the myriad cases don’t let up over the course of one headache-inducingly hot summer.
To make matters worse, the unit is short-staffed and its new superintendent, the wily Efva Thylqvist, is more interested in the men than the women on her team — much to Huss’s chagrin and frustration. However, Thylqvist does come up with the excellent idea of handing the mummified body investigation over to Huss’s former boss, Sven Andersson, now part of the Cold Cases team. At this point Tursten’s eighth novel turns into two distinct investigations, both tangling with treacherous “nets”: the darker reaches of the Internet and, perhaps, a dangerous network of spies.
Andersson, who is on the brink of retirement, and his cold-case sidekick, Leif Fryxender, pursue barely-there leads by interviewing octogenarians and nonagenarians and sorting through boxes of ancient papers. They uncover a crime that has cast a shadow over three generations and positively bristles with World War II-related international diplomacy, homeland security, and out-and-out spying. Andersson and the younger Fryxender make a wonderfully complementary team, and it’s especially fun to watch them scrutinize the various puzzle pieces of their investigation, mulling over every element and discussing possible mystery-solving scenarios.
Meanwhile, Huss and her team — including the newly-arrived Åsa Nyström, who is smart, outgoing, and a kick boxer — quickly realize they have a dangerous predator on their hands, one who has moved from online courtship straight into real-life murder. As they work with their IT expert to try to identify the killer via his Internet activities before he can kill again, they get a semi-break in the case when an older sister overhears her much younger one promise to meet a man in secret.
Tursten does a nifty job of incorporating her detectives’ real-life woes, worries, and limitations into the story. Most prominently, not-so-casual racism rears its ugly head during workplace conversations.
She also does an excellent job of providing glimpses into suspects’ and victims’ home lives, exposing the emotional detritus they’ve left behind and the tensions that may have caused their vulnerabilities, or, in the case of the suspects, the domestic situations that may have driven their violent inclinations. Tursten is just as incisive whether she’s sketching the cold and calculating alcoholic father of a murdered girl or a suspect’s mother: “The mother . . . was a faded blonde who weighed at least 260 pounds. She had squeezed her abundant curves into a dirty pink tracksuit. The jacket was zipped only halfway up, generously exposing her heavy breasts. . . . Just above one breast was a tattoo that had presumably been a small lizard once upon a time, but Bettan’s increasing weight combined with the forces of gravity meant that it now looked more like an alligator.”
The most affecting aspect of this police procedural? Watching the detectives — several of whom have daughters of their own — confront the realities behind what made the victims so vulnerable, realities that cross class and socioeconomic lines. “Poverty isn’t always visible from the outside,” a detective in the Trafficking Unit reminds Huss. “Even the most apparently solid environments can hide a devastating internal poverty. . . . Loneliness is the most widespread disease we have in Sweden today.”
THE TREACHEROUS NET
By Helene Tursten
Translated from the Swedish
by Marlaine Delargy
Soho, 306 pp., $26.95
Daneet Steffens is a journalist and book critic. Follow her on Twitter @daneetsteffens.