The Golden Calf: An Inspector Irene Huss Investigation
If you are looking for an additional fix of Nordic crime fiction, I suggest you add Helene Tursten to your list. THE GOLDEN CALF, published in her native Sweden in 2003, is the fifth of her Irene Huss novels to be translated --- courtesy of the estimable Laura A. Wideburg --- into English and published by Soho Press in the United States. Huss is quite the figure in Tursten’s native Sweden, with several of the books in the series having been adapted to film, with more coming. While neither Tursten nor Huss has achieved quite that level of popularity in the United States (at least as of yet), each and all of the books that have been translated are worth your time and attention, with THE GOLDEN CALF arguably the most intriguing and complex of these so far.
"One of the more interesting elements of the book is an account of how Sanna’s dot-com business was conceived and launched before experiencing a death that anyone with a pencil and a ledger could have seen coming from months away. Its inclusion results in THE GOLDEN CALF being more than a mystery; it is also, in part, a cautionary tale, one that resonates quietly long after the final paragraph is read."
Huss is a detective-inspector with the Violent Crimes unit of the Göteborg, Sweden Police Department. The unit begins a particularly busy day with a double homicide as well as the murder of Kjell Ceder --- nicknamed “The Golden Calf” for his ability to attract investors --- a fabulously wealthy restaurateur/hotelier. Huss and her longtime police associate, Tommy Persson, are assigned to investigate Ceder’s murder. The elderly man’s body was discovered by Sanna, his much younger wife upon her return home with her infant son. It almost immediately becomes clear that all is not right with Sanna.
Prior to her relationship with Ceder, Sanna had been newsworthy for her involvement in a spectacular dot-com enterprise that had been an even more spectacular failure. In due course, it is learned that the victims in the double-homicide that the unit is also investigating were tied to the same enterprise, and thus to Sanna. Furthermore, some three years before, Huss and Persson had unsuccessfully investigated the disappearance of another principal in the business. Huss does not believe in coincidence, particularly when it is clear that Sanna is not being entirely forthright with the police. While she has an apparently solid alibi for her whereabouts during the time of her husband’s murder, it is evident that she knows far more than she is telling.
There seems to be little evidence to rely upon with respect to Ceder’s murder, so Huss begins working backward, getting her first real clue from an extremely likely source and from there making a grisly discovery that indirectly results in the team ultimately resolving all three homicides. The trail that Huss follows is an interesting if complex and tortuous one, taking her from Göteborg to Paris and back. However, it takes a somewhat exotic character, introduced during the final pages of the book, to produce the missing pieces and wrap things up. It is nonetheless Huss’s penchant for incessantly probing for the truth that makes her successful professionally even if it does occasionally cause her problems personally.
THE GOLDEN CALF is somewhat grim in spots, though it is not without its subtle, dark humor (kudos to Wideburg’s excellent translation, which picks up on a number of extremely funny puns). The return of irascible Superintendent Sven Andersson is also good news for those familiar with the series. One of the more interesting elements of the book is an account of how Sanna’s dot-com business was conceived and launched before experiencing a death that anyone with a pencil and a ledger could have seen coming from months away. Its inclusion results in THE GOLDEN CALF being more than a mystery; it is also, in part, a cautionary tale, one that resonates quietly long after the final paragraph is read.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on February 15, 2013