Who Watcheth is a question with more than one answer in this latest installment in Helene Tursten’s excellent police procedural series featuring Inspector Irene Huss of Göteborg, Sweden. Huss is on the trail of a serial killer who wraps his victims up in a package, a forensic countermeasure that the media uses to name the unknown suspect The Package Killer.
As the victims are investigated, it seems that the Package Killer stalks his victims for a time. It also seems that someone is stalking Inspector Huss. I confess that I am not a fan of what I call the “personal jeopardy” storyline. I am happy to have my detectives investigate and capture killers without mussing their hair, to be honest. For me, the puzzle is more compelling than fear they will be hurt. After all, if they die, the series is over, so the tension is never absolute. Of course, when the personal jeopardy spreads to their family, then there is a greater sense of peril. Nonetheless it does not win points with me. That personal jeopardy applied so often in Who Watcheth made the book less compelling for me.
I have a list of plot elements I like and dislike. They are not deal-breakers. Personal jeopardy is one. Another element I dislike is the interior monologue of madness from inside the killer’s head. That Who Watcheth pulled in two of my most disliked elements was a disappointment. For me, the monologue of madness is unnecessary. I prefer to let the detectives discern the motive from victimology and personal history. In Who Watcheth, the key to the motive is a message written on the “gifts” sent to the victims before their death. We don’t need the interior monologue to understand the motive.
One of the most disturbing and heart-breaking stories in the Huss series is The Fire Dance from a few years back. Fallout from that mystery complicates this one. I appreciate that Tursten makes room for one story to impinge on another. In real life, a case may have ramifications long after it is solved, boxed up, and filed away. Bringing back the story from the past is an authentic action, though that story was as bleak as can be.
There is nothing cozy about Scandinavian Noir and Helene Tursten is among the most noir of the noir. Her stories are often grim, disturbing explorations of twisted and broken killers. The tragic histories that broke and twisted them will sometimes break your heart. As grim and unrelenting as they may be, Tursten’s novels intrigue and capture readers with excellent pacing, characterization and imaginative plots.
Who Watcheth is a good mystery. It is fair and presents readers with the clues they need. In fact, readers may catch a hint or two before Inspector Huss and her colleagues. The work place environment is realistic, with friendships, alliances, and conflicts shifting and changing as they are likely to do. I wish there were more solidarity with Huss female supervisor, but stereotypes of successful women invade books my women, too. I like that Huss has a happy home life with solvable, ordinary problems and a dog that is just too cute for words.
I thought this was one of the weaker books in her series. I did not think the killer’s monologue was necessary and found it distracting. Huss relied on that far too much and I would argue that it was unnecessary in the first place. There was a bit too much personal jeopardy as well, what with Huss, a female colleague and Huss again in jeopardy. The victimology seems a bit weak, as well, as though the only trigger needed was being seen by the killer. Some interaction triggering the targeting and stalking would have seemed more real, though I know at times it can be just that random. I also think it might have been a stronger book if there were more viable suspects. However, as a procedural, the winnowing of suspects was effective and realistic.
However, a weaker Helene Tursten mystery is still better than average. Even when not at her best, Helene Torsten writes a strong police procedural with pacing so fast and engrossing that you think you have just started and you’re halfway through the book. Her characters are people you will care about, even if you have not read the entire series. If you have, then you really want to know how they are doing and see them change over time. I have a soft spot for Helene Tursten’s series in particular because my grandparents emigrated from Varmland, leaving from Göteberg. Some of the books in the series take us out of the city into rural Varmland and there are place names I recognize. I like to imagine what they might have been like for my grandparents and great aunts and uncles. Tursten writes beautifully about the landscape and makes it come alive and I love that about her books.
Who Watcheth will be released on December 6th. I received an advance e-galley from Soho Press through Edelweiss.