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by Helene Tursten and Marlaine Delargy, trans.
Soho, December 2019
360 pages
ISBN: 1641290765

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A few years ago, Helene Tursten placed her popular, socially-minded protagonist Irene Huss into semi-retirement and launched a new series, with a younger policewoman, DI Embla Nyström, at the centre of the action. WINTER GRAVE is the second in the series, preceded by HUNTING GAME, in which Embla suffered a head injury sufficiently serious that she now has had to give up her career in the ring, where she was Nordic light welterweight champion. Although almost completely recovered, she cannot take the risk of another concussion.

Embla, a detective with the Gothenburg regional Violent Crimes Unit is dispatched to Strömstad, a small coastal city close to the Norwegian border, after news breaks that a young girl is missing - Amelie has not come home from school. Her last recorded appearance was with a local teenager named Kristoffer, who is perhaps autistic and who drives that Swedish automotive peculiarity, an A-tractor. Quickly suspicion lands on Kristoffer, because of his oddness and because that's pretty much what happens in a small community. When no trace of Amelie is found, it doesn't take long before someone apparently decides to take justice into his own hands and beat Kristoffer half to death.

But another small child disappears, a little boy named Viggo this time. He was evidently kidnapped from where he was playing outside his house after dark (it is winter in Strömstad and dark comes very early) and, like Amelie, he does not reappear. Now the worry is that there may be a ring of child-stealers at work, looking to kidnap children for ransom or for even more horrifying fates.

Police procedures are at the heart of the plot here. The police work hard and carefully to follow all possible leads and come to an appropriate conclusion. It makes for a solid and satisfying sort of narrative. But we learn quite a bit about the various detectives, especially Embla, who engages in a flirtation with a defence attorney that turns into an affair. As well, she is haunted throughout with guilt about a childhood friend who, like Amelie and Viggo, unaccountably disappeared and whose fate remains unknown. And then there's Hampus, who clearly is concealing something that he only discloses to Embla very late in the book.

WINTER GAMES will not tingle your spine in all probability nor is it precisely a real page-turner. But there is nothing false about it. Nor is it in any way uninteresting. On the contrary, as Tursten has done in the past, she develops a full, rich portrait of (here) small-town Sweden, of its weather, its customs, and its evident, if elusive, differences from similar North American settings. For that reason, it is well worth setting aside a few hours to immerse yourself in what is an example of Swedish not-completely-noir.

§ Yvonne Klein is a writer, translator, and retired college English professor who lives in Montreal. She's been editing RTE since 2008.

Reviewed by Yvonne Klein, December 2019

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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