This is part of the ongoing Inspector Irene Huss series, but there’s no need to have read any others in the series if this is your first Helene Tursten novel. The scenario is comfortably familiar: a competent, middle-ranking detective in Göteborg, Sweden’s second city, stretches her investigative skills as part of the CID team while juggling her family life and personal relationships.
There’s no alcohol-addicted detectives, driven to distraction by bitter divorce; no melancholic mid-winter isolation amid the islands or mountains. Instead Inspector Huss works the city streets where each night’s new snowfall is merely an everyday inconvenience, and where each morning begins with her running late for the daily briefing. Scandi crime, yes. Nordic noir, no.
There is however a decent mystery at the heart of the novel. A series of accidents, mishaps and murder reveal more than the expected number of bodies and a connection to sex trafficking networks which stretch from Estonia to the Canary Islands. The murder squad is stretched thin with this unusual activity, and Huss herself is sent south to liaise with her European colleagues… which puts her life in grave danger from the corrupt police and their gangster accomplices.
With all its social commentary, on the nature of prostitution, affirmative action, equality at work, the parental phase of empty-nesting and so on, The Beige Man is instantly identifiable as squeaky-clean Swedish. However it doesn’t flinch from detailing the explicit details of the gruesome condition of the young women ‘sold’ into slavery, and its main moral debate focuses on what kind of man would happily pay for relations with these clearly unwilling, unhealthy and abused girls. Then author Tursten even answers her own question, in a clever resolution to the parallel plot-lines which neatly resolves three seemingly unconnected incidents.
So there’s no poetry here; no bleakly beautiful landscapes or world class word-craft. Nor is this a thriller. The Beige Man is a well-plotted and professionally delivered murder mystery set in the modern world, with more than one foot in the camp of social conscience.
Reviewed by Rowena Hoseason
The Beige Man is available as a paperback or ebook
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