Helene Tursten’s fine police procedural series features Detective Inspector Irene Huss of the Violent Crimes Unit of the Göteborg, Sweden Police Department. Huss is one of those characters whose professional life is exceedingly interesting and whose personal life is readily identifiable to readers, which, in turn, has made this series and its author extremely popular in its native environs.
DETECTIVE INSPECTOR HUSS, the first installment in the Huss canon, has already been published in the United States, as have two subsequent books, THE TORSO and THE GLASS DEVIL. Reading them out of order is not unsettling or confusing at all, given that Tursten provides new readers with enough backstory information to bring them up to speed without interrupting the narrative of the current work. So if you are unfamiliar with Tursten and Inspector Huss, NIGHT ROUNDS --- the fourth in the series to be translated into English --- is a terrific way to become acquainted, not to mention addicted.
"Those who have been waiting for the publication of NIGHT ROUNDS after becoming familiar with Huss through her previous titles will find their patience well-rewarded. For those new to the series, the best advice is to jump on now."
Tursten wastes no time getting things rolling. The primary action in NIGHT ROUNDS takes place at Lowander Hospital, a private facility in Göteborg that is used primarily for short-term surgical patients. As the novel opens, there is a late-night power failure that results in the death of a patient on a respirator. Even more significantly, however, a nurse is discovered to have been brutally murdered. Another nurse on duty hysterically tells investigating officers that she saw “Nurse Tekla,” an employee of the hospital who committed suicide there several decades previously, making the rounds at the time of the blackout. Huss and her team are assigned to investigate; while the idea that a ghost killed the unfortunate nurse is almost immediately discounted, there are any number of elements to the case that don’t add up. The nurse’s body was found where it would almost immediately be discovered; there does not seem to be a motive for her murder; and the fact that the killer apparently caused the power outage makes no sense. Additionally, a second nurse from the hospital has disappeared, and a homeless woman who had been squatting on the hospital grounds and saw Nurse Tekla turns up dead as well.
Huss and her team begin a careful and methodical search through the evidence, following a trail that leads through the hospital’s past and to long-buried secrets that are affecting events in the present. While the plot is certainly compelling, NIGHT ROUNDS is primarily an atmospheric, character-driven novel. Lowander Hospital is on the brink of closing, and its status as the focal point of the story provides a backdrop of quiet decay and despair over the proceedings. If there was ever a hospital that would truly be haunted, Lowander would seem to fit the bill. As far as characters are concerned, Huss is an interesting one. A former Ju-Jitsu champion --- a trait she shares with her creator --- Huss is reasonably content with her work and in her marriage to a gourmet chef. Their twin teenage daughters also provide a bit of drama as one of them becomes altogether too involved with some animal rights activists. Huss is thus presented as an uncomplicated character who is anything but dull. Her greatest vice appears to be an addiction to coffee. The same is not true of her teammates in the Violent Crimes Unit.
There are a number of noteworthy personalities to be found here; two of the most complex are Superintendent Sven Andersson and Hannu Rauhala. Andersson is a bit off, to say the least. He is somewhat cantankerous and exhibits some signs of what might be interpreted as early dementia, yet demonstrates occasional and canny instances of brilliance. Rauhala is on loan to the team, and is quiet and low key. He possesses an almost flawless ability to obtain information that no one else can and to make connections between seemingly disparate elements in order to arrive at a conclusion. It is Huss, though, who provides the invisible glue that holds the team together and who ultimately leads them to the doorstep of the murderer.
Those who have been waiting for the publication of NIGHT ROUNDS after becoming familiar with Huss through her previous titles will find their patience well-rewarded. For those new to the series, the best advice is to jump on now. There are six more Huss books that have been published in Sweden, and a series of films based on the novels has been given the boxed DVD treatment abroad. My prediction is that Huss and Tursten will become very well known in the United States in short order.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 16, 2012