Soho Crime, 2015
[originally published as En man med litet ansikte, 2007]
translated by Marlaine Delargy
I've been a fan of Tursten's work from the first book of this series, Detective Inspector Huss, and my favorite of all of her novels will always be The Torso, book #3 in the series order. The Beige Man is book #7 and frankly, much better than the last 2 or 3 books that Tursten's produced.
As usual, Tursten captures the reader's attention within the first few opening pages. This time two officers waiting for fast food get a radio call about a stolen BMW. As they wait, the stolen car flies right past them at top speed, so they take off after it. While trying to keep up, the officers watch in horror as they see "something fly up in the air, then land to one side of the car." One of the policemen realizes that the driver of the BMW has just hit someone -- who later turns out to be a retired policemen. Not too much later, the stolen, empty and now torched car is discovered in the vicinity of a holiday village in the forest, and while looking for the drivers, the police bring in the dogs, who make a horrific discovery in an old root cellar: the body of a very young, half-naked girl, who has been physically and sexually abused. However, the driver and passenger of the BMW seem to have just vanished. As the dual investigation proceeds, the police discover that the little girl may have been a victim of sex trafficking; the only good news is that the cops have a line on the man who may have brought her into Sweden. All of this happens within the first few pages, so of course, solving these crimes is not going to be that simple, as Irene and the other members of her group (along with the reader) quickly discover.
There's a very thoughtful blurb on the back cover of my book from The Denver Post which says in part,
"For decades the Swedes have excelled at crime fiction, which is often as gloomy as their long winter nights, filled with philosophical asides on life and politics."This time around, the dark world of sex trafficking/sex slavery is the main focus, and Tursten doesn't shy away from showing her readers exactly how horrific this "trade" really is. First of all, she informs her readers that
"...human trafficking today turns over more money than the narcotics trade."The girls involved rarely make it out; and those who manage to do so often suffer from severe physical and mental damage. She also notes that most men who pay for sex with a "sex slave" do so likely for reasons of power, and because they see these girls as objects -- not real people. Tursten also reveals that the majority of men who participate are "socially well-established men with families." What's even more eye-opening here is that there is even a market for killing these poor victims after they're no longer of any use -- pimps sell these girls to people who take money for getting rid of them. And as an example of an even worse reality, Tursten also reveals that in some cases, the sex-slave trade is protected by politicians and overlooked in terms of the law because of the potentially huge amounts of money involved. So quite frankly, it boggles my brain when I read an Amazon review of this book where the reader reviewer says the following:
"Maybe I am a bit weary of the crime of sex trafficking so this one was not as good as her others."Weary of the crime of sex trafficking? I ask you. How does anyone get "weary" of hearing about something that needs so much public awareness? Not only that, but hello ... the subject of this novel is right on the dustjacket blurb so caveat emptor. Duh.
What I like about Tursten's novels in general is that she doesn't have to resort to the now-standard trope of the badass heroine, but instead focuses mainly on the procedural side of police work. She situates Irene Huss in a workplace which is very much a male-dominated environment where there's no escaping from a couple of misogynistic jerks as colleagues, which is probably a more realistic situation than we non-police people realize. The down side of this series as a whole is that while I get that the author wants to portray a woman who must juggle work with home and personal life, I'm just not a huge fan of the continuing story of the dog (and I have two dogs of my own) and the issues with the twins, especially now that they're what -- 20?
While The Beige Man is not my personal favorite of her novels, I must say that the story is much better than the last couple of books Tursten's written and this time around I was pretty much hooked right away and stayed with the story until all was revealed. I will also mention that I had some things figured out early on which is pretty bothersome for me as a crime/mystery reader -- I'm one of those people who wants only tiny little clues to work on until the end so that everything is a huge surprise. That didn't happen here, but that's okay. I stick with these books because I happen to like Irene Huss as a character, and as long as Helene Tursten keeps writing them, I'll keep buying them.