The Crime Fiction Alphabet meme is continuing its dangerous journey. Many thanks to our tour guide Kerrie at Mysteries in Paradise for the skilled leadership. Today’s tour stop is the Hotel H; it’s quite a nice four-star place, so I’m looking forward to our stay. Before I unpack let me share my contribution for this week, Helene Tursten’s Detective Inspector Irene Huss.
Huss is a member of the Violent Crimes Division of the Göteborg police, so she’s seen her share of what people are capable of doing to each other. Huss is good at her job although like anyone else, she makes mistakes. She is intuitive, but she relies on evidence and on what witnesses and suspects say as she and her team work on cases. And that’s one of the appealing things about both Huss’ character and this series in general: solving cases is a group effort. Each team member relies on the other team members and they all know it. Huss gets along with her colleagues most of the time and when there is a misunderstanding, she’s willing to work things out. With so many stereotypical fictional cops out there who fight with their colleagues and flout authority, it’s refreshing that Huss realises the value of teamwork and likes the people on her team.
For example, in Night Rounds, there’s a sudden blackout at Löwander Hospital, a private facility. During the blackout night nurse Marianne Svärd is murdered. Then another nurse Linda Svensson disappears. So Huss and her team investigate what’s going on at the hospital and why someone seems to be targeting it. As the team investigates the events, we see how their leader Sven Andersson helps them divvy up the work and make sense of what they find. The team starts each day with what they call “morning prayer,” a meeting at which the members discuss how the case is going and what each will do during the day. Huss is an essential part of this team, but Tursten makes it clear that she’s not the only member who matters.
Huss is more than just a cop though. She is also a former judo champion, a wife and the mother of twin daughters Jenny and Katarina. Huss has a loving relationship with her daughters although of course they have their share of arguments. When anything threatens them she is as fiercely protective as any loving parent would be. For instance, in The Glass Devil, Huss and her team investigate the deaths of three members of the Schyttelius family. Schoolteacher Jacob Schyttelius is shot one night in the doorway of his parents’ winterised cottage. His parents are killed just hours later in their home. At first it looks as though the murders are the work of a Satanist cult. But it’s soon proven that that was just a cover for the real motive. Now it seems that someone is targeting this family for a more personal team and the team starts looking into the family’s history to see who would have a motive. It’s an ugly and difficult case but that doesn’t stop Huss from caring for her children. Her daughter Katarina has decided to enter a beauty pageant and Huss worries about this. So she works to find out the reason why. At first Katarina won’t tell her but finally she admits that the reason is that she wants to prove she’s beautiful to her ex-boyfriend, who’s hurt her deeply. Huss and her husband Krister interrupt their busy lives to help Katarina get some perspective on the problem. And in Night Rounds, Jenny gets involved with an animal rights group and when a few of the members get out of hand and burn a car, she’s at great risk. Huss’ reaction here may not be entirely “by the book,” but it is perfectly understandable to any parent.
Huss’ husband Krister is a chef at an upmarket restaurant called Gladys. He keeps unusual hours just as his wife does so the two don’t always get a lot of time together. But it’s just because of his odd work hours that he understands why his wife can’t always be home “at the regular time.” Krister Huss is hardly a “henpecked” husband but he is a loving and caring spouse. Irene and Krister Huss have their moments as any couple does. For instance, in Detective Inspector Huss, Huss and her team are investigating the murder of financier Richard von Knecht, who supposedly jumped from the balcony of his exclusive penthouse. It’s soon proven he was murdered though and it turns out to be a very long and difficult case. Krister does not help matters when one morning he says to his wife,
“‘Good morning, Sweetie. You look like a disaster zone.’
‘Thank you, Dear, that’s just the sort of comment that makes my day.’
Irene angrily snatched the towel he was about to dry himself off with and flicked the towel into the spray of the shower. A little revenge is still revenge, even if it’s childish. Krister laughed annoyingly.
‘Okay, okay, so it’s one of those mornings. About time for your period?’
‘No, but I’ve worked more than fifty hours in four days! And yesterday Jenny made a point of seeing that I threw in the towel for good.’
‘Did we get off on a towel thing for some reason?’
‘Oh, go jump in the lake!’
Mad as a hornet she climbed into the shower. When she turned around she saw Krister take her towel and walk out the door, whistling. Now she was the one with no towel. There was no justice in the world.”
Underneath the bickering here, we can also see that Huss and her husband do love each other. They respect each other too and that’s a refreshing aspect of Huss’ character. She’s in a stable, more or less happy relationship and she doesn’t waste time or reader interest pouting and wallowing when she gets annoyed with her husband.
Shortly after the scene above, Huss explains that she’s on edge because besides her work stress, she caught Jenny sneaking in late. And that’s another appealing aspect of Huss’ character. She’s fully aware that she’s not perfect. She can get irritable and she sometimes overreacts. She doesn’t always remember to take the family dog Sammie for a walk, keep hair appointments or conduct perfect interviews with witnesses. But she takes responsibility when she makes mistakes whether it’s at home or on the job.
The scene described above also shows something else that makes Huss likeable: she stands up for herself without being a superhero. She’s not aggressive, but she doesn’t back down from a challenge. Not only does that make her interesting on a personal level, but it also makes her a good cop. At the same time, she’s not foolhardy and there are times when her job takes a real toll on her. For instance, in The Torso, the Violent Crimes Unit searches for the murderer of an unidentified man whose mutilated and dismembered body is found on the beach. The trail leads to Copenhagen, so Huss pays a visit there. After her visit, a young woman Carmen Østergaard is found similarly murdered. Then there are more deaths. This is a particularly brutal case, and Huss is in her way traumatised by it. She feels responsible for Carmen Østergaard’s murder because she had interviewed the woman just days before she was killed. At one point the stress is so great that Huss wakes up screaming from a nightmare. Huss is brave throughout the investigation – and she has to be – but that doesn’t mean she isn’t also vulnerable.
Huss is a multidimensional character without being a superhero. She’s smart, funny and strong. She’s a devoted wife and mother but you could hardly call her “the perfect housewife.” She cares deeply about her job too. And she’s good at it. Little wonder she has a lot of fans.