Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Torso, by Helene Tursten

Soho Press, 2006
originally published as Tatuerad Torso, 2000
translated by Katarina Emelie Tucker
341 pp (trade paper ed.)

The Torso is to date my favorite book in the Irene Huss series; it is much darker in tone than either of the previous two novels (Detective Inspector Huss and Night Rounds), the plot is very well constructed, and the investigation takes center stage, with little else to distract from the main storyline. Frankly speaking, I couldn't put this book down.

Tursten captures the reader's attention within the first three pages with the discovery of a human torso inside of a garbage bag.  Already busy with two major cases, the police in the Göteborg Violent Crimes Unit have their hands full, and adding to their burden is the fact that the torso yields little in the way of clues to help them out. All they have to go on is a strange tattoo which ultimately leads them to Copenhagen, where their counterparts in the police there are also dealing with a similar crime. Irene Huss also takes on the case of a friend's missing daughter; her trail also leads to Copenhagen, so Irene goes looking for her while she's  there. After returning home, various events lead Irene to believe that she's being followed, and that her presence in the two police investigations has led the unknown murderer to strike again.  This is no ordinary murderer, but rather someone who takes great delight in not only killing, but dismembering and disemboweling the victims as well.  The focus in this book is on the two-pronged investigation, with the two police teams pulling together to chase down a vicious killer.  Huss is, however, wary of sharing too much information with her Danish colleagues after a source in Copenhagen reveals that there might possibly be a cop involved. Aside from the police investigations, Huss has to deal with her teen daughters, a colleague whose work may be leading him toward alcoholism, and the personal aspects of her investigation into her friend's missing daughter. Tursten also uses the opportunity to examine attitudes toward homosexuals, women who work in prostitution and the sex industry in general. 

If ever there was a book not for the faint of heart, this is it.  There is a great deal of description involving decapitations, dismembering, removal of inner organs, and necrosadism which may lead you into wanting to put the book down after a while. But don't. First, while some parts are incredibly graphic, they're not written in a sensationalistic fashion, nor is there anything in these descriptions that doesn't belong in terms of the story line. Second, although the nature of the crimes may be abhorrent, what elevates this book is the police investigation -- this is one of the best police procedurals I've read this year. It is well conceived and well plotted, taking unexpected twists and turns along the way, topping anything Tursten has done in the previous two series novels.

I heartily recommend The Torso with zero reservations -- definitely a must for Scandinavian crime fiction readers, for crime fiction readers in general and for people who like their crime on the darker side.  What a good book!!!!


  1. I liked this one and the other two books I read by Tursten. However, I am having trouble getting into Night Rounds. It isn't interesting. I don't care about the characters and Irene Huss isn't center stage in this book, at least so far.
    I may have trouble reading any further.

    1. Hi Kathy
      This series is one where I like the first book much better than the second, which is highly unusual for me. I know other people are raving about Night Rounds; I thought it was good but I really enjoyed the other two much better. Personally I tend to finish books even if I hate them, except for one I started recently by Dean Koontz. I didn't feel like giving it a chance because it got worse the further in I got.

  2. I agree with you in that this is the strongest book in the three by Tursten I've read. The Glass Devil, which follows this one, is a very dark novel which I liked a lot, but the solution to the mystery is not as "fair to the reader" or quite as well done as here. (Night Rounds is still not available in UK but will be soon).

    One reason I liked The Torso is because it did not flinch from describing what it had to for the plot, yet it did not dwell on it; Irene is someone who can face unpleasant facts and assess their relevance, whether in terms of a dead body or in the Denmark scenes, yet without being priggish or judgemental she makes the moral line very clear.

    1. Maxine: It is a very good book, for sure. I'm wondering, prior to starting Glass Devil, what I'll be missing from the previous book since there's a gap in translation between The Torso and The Glass Devil. If something momentous happens in between the two, I'm going to be a bit upset!


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