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Tursten, Helene - 'The Glass Devil' (translated by Katarina E Tucker)
Paperback: 320 pages (May 2008) Publisher: Soho Press ISBN: 1569474893

The third book by this superb exponent of the police procedural to be translated into English is well up to the standards of the previous two. In this bleak tale, Jonas, a young teacher, is ruthlessly shot one evening as he comes in from the gym and a spot of supermarket shopping. That night, his parents are also killed by the same heartless gunman or woman in a nearby village. Detective Inspector Irene Huss and colleagues are called in.

The first part of the book focuses on the investigation of the colleagues of the older couple, as Jonas's father was a pastor in the Swedish church. Irene and her susceptible younger colleague Fredrik interview the group: the new-age cantor Eva Moller, whose spiritual beliefs almost convince down-to-earth Irene that the ghost of the victims will reveal their secrets; the two main contenders for the dead man's position as head of the local church; as well as the accountant, who falls under suspicion as the police discover just how much money is involved in the church and its missions.

Yet after a round or two of interviews with these suspects, as well as a tense scene with Jonas's ex-wife and some minor skulduggery involving a local journalist, the investigation changes tack. The "only lead" is Jonas's sister, Rebecka, a computer expert living in England. Irene is duly dispatched to London to interview her, and much of the rest of the book features her experiences of the British capital and her local liaison in the Met, Glen Thompson, and his extended family. Rebecka proves very hard to talk to, being protected by her boss Christian as well as her controlling, nasty-seeming psychiatrist. When Irene can eventually interview Rebecka, she finds the young woman to be a physical and mental wreck, barely able to speak and very withdrawn. Has she inherited her depression from her mother, or is there something else going on?

Back in Sweden and increasingly frustrated with the lack of any leads, Irene eventually returns to London, where she and Glen unravel some family relationships that provide the solution to this apparently motiveless crime. The denouement is extremely sad, all the more so because the book is structured entirely from the police view, providing an objectivity that intensifies the tragedy. The terrible nature of the crime and its perpetrators are seen with a clear, scientific perspective, and although the climax is told in a brief paragraph or two, it is no less telling than any number of chapters of gory details that one might read in books by authors fond of graphic descriptions.

In some ways, this book can be said to have weak points. The solution is pretty obvious about half-way through. Jonas's life is barely investigated at all. Yet although Jonas's and his parents' back-story is highly significant to the solution to the crime, the police would probably not have got to the answer any quicker had they known the information that Superintendent Andersson's friends, who knew the family socially, reluctantly volunteer near the end of the book. The author's interest, one feels, is not so much the way in which the mystery is solved, but the nature of fate and self-fulfilling prophecy.

The police team, apart from the irascible Superintendent, take a back seat in this book, as do Irene's family. There are some personal touches in the first few chapters, particularly a section about Irene's neighbours and the aftermath of an unfortunate incident with Sammy (her dog). But once the case begins to bite, THE GLASS DEVIL becomes a focused, bleak tale about evil stripped down to its basics, portrayed with this author's unflinching yet unsensational style.

Maxine Clarke, England
August 2008

Maxine blogs at

Details of the author's other books with links to reviews can be found on the Books page.
More crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 3/08/2008 11:02