HUNTING GAME by Helene Tursten
Soho Crime; 2/26/19
CBTB Rating: 4.5/5
The Verdict: an atmospheric mystery perfect for classic crime readers
Helene Tursten, best known for her Irene Huss crime fiction series, returns this week with HUNTING GAME—an atmospheric detective novel that launches her brand-new series featuring Detective Inspector Embla Nyström. And what a fantastic series launch it is. HUNTING GAME is in many ways a classic detective novel; its moody atmosphere, measured pacing, and down-to-earth plotting will make it a perfect fit for readers of traditional procedurals. However, thanks to its stellar protagonist, HUNTING GAME feels decidedly modern as well. At the heart of this superb mystery is Embla Nyström, a young woman working for the mobile unit of the police department in Gothenburg, Sweden. Fiercely independent and as physically tough as she is mentally strong, Embla is an inspiring character—but, even better, she’s relatable, too. She’s the kind of down-to-earth, realistic protagonist that readers will wish they could get to know in real life. In a genre where “damaged detectives” with all manner of bad habits and outlandish behavior can seem a dime a dozen, Embla’s realism and relatability set her apart. From its intriguing cast of characters to its immersive atmosphere and delightfully classic crime-inspired plotting, HUNTING GAME is an excellent read from first to last, and the start of a series I will look forward to following.
Twenty-eight-year-old Embla Nyström has been plagued by chronic nightmares and racing thoughts ever since she can remember. She has learned to channel most of her anxious energy into her position as Detective Inspector in the mobile unit in Gothenburg, Sweden, and into sports. A talented hunter and prizewinning Nordic welterweight, she is glad to be taking a vacation from her high-stress job to attend the annual moose hunt with her family and friends.
But when Embla arrives at her uncle’s cabin in rural Dalsland, she sees an unfamiliar face has joined the group: Peter, enigmatic, attractive, and newly divorced. And she isn’t the only one to notice. One longtime member of the hunt doesn’t welcome the presence of an outsider and is quick to point out that with Peter, the group’s number reaches thirteen, a bad omen for the week. Sure enough, a string of unsettling incidents follow, culminating in the disappearance of two hunters. Embla takes charge of the search, and they soon find one of the missing men floating facedown in the nearby lake. With the help of local reinforcements, Embla delves into the dark pasts of her fellow hunters in search of a killer.
Why do we come back to our favorite crime fiction series over and over? For this reader, the answer is always the same: the characters. I’m a picky reader when it comes to series—they can feel like big commitments, after all, and it takes something special for me to want to stick around. Well, I had nothing to worry about when it comes to the new series by Helene Tursten. Embla Nyström, the 28-year old police officer who plays the starring role in Tursten’s new series, is exactly the kind of complex, compelling character who will surely keep me around for many books to come. Embla is a study in duality, and it’s her deeply relatable contradictions that make her such fun to read. On the one hand, Embla is tough and strong-willed. She’s a prize-winning Nordic welterweight boxer, an accomplished hunter, and a young woman forging her own path in the Swedish police force. On the other hand, Embla is vulnerable and emotional. She battles anxiety, struggles with balancing her dating life with her all-consuming career, and does her very best to look out for those she loves. Embla is all the more relatable for the many facets of her personality, and I loved reading a female lead whose character explored the complexities of womanhood in such a fully-realized way. Embla feels authentic and down-to-earth, and I’m already looking forward to spending more time with her in her next series installment.
Embla is a decidedly modern character, but Tursten sets her against a decidedly classic crime backdrop—and the result is delightfully nostalgic and thoroughly entertaining. HUNTING GAME draws from old-school mystery writing and the Nordic Noir tradition to craft an immersive story that will wrap itself around readers like a cozy blanket on a winter’s evening. Primarily set in rural Sweden, where a hunting party has gathered for the annual moose hunt, HUNTING GAME evokes a locked-room mystery with its limited cast of characters and remote setting. When two in the hunting party go missing, Embla finds herself spearheading the investigation into the disappearances… and suspicion quickly falls on the hunters who remain in the group. Much of HUNTING GAME feels thoroughly traditional, and I loved the ways this book tipped its hat to classic crime. Much like Embla is a down-to-earth example of a police officer, so too is HUNTING GAME a down-to-earth mystery. This book is spare and concise; there aren’t any frills here, just really great crime storytelling. Readers hoping for thrills and major chills will be best suited looking elsewhere—HUNTING GAME is a nothing-but-the-facts story told with precise, crisp prose. I’m all for a dark, twisted thriller, but it’s undeniably refreshing to press pause on all that gore and immerse yourself in a story like HUNTING GAME: one that foregoes on-the-page violence in favor of subtle intrigue and masterful plotting. If old school crime novels are your cup of tea, HUNTING GAME will be, too.
We can’t discuss a Nordic crime novel without a mention of sense of place, and HUNTING GAME has this in spades. Tursten’s vivid prose instantly transports the reader to rural Sweden, and immerses the reader in the details, procedures, and experience of a moose hunt. Now, I’ve never been to rural Sweden, let alone been on a moose hunt, but I found myself utterly captivated by the sense of place Tursten crafts here. Details and images big and small are utilized beautifully in HUNTING GAME, giving this story its unparalleled authenticity. Readers will fall in step with Embla as she treks through the snowy forest to her hunting blind; they will relish the traditional meals the hunters prepare for one another; they will feel the bitter chill in the hunting cabin on a cold winter’s night. The mystery central to this story doesn’t kick in until nearly one third of the way through HUNTING GAME, but I never found myself impatient or antsy waiting for it to begin. I was too busy being utterly immersed in the rich atmosphere Tursten crafts to notice how much spent is time “setting the scene” before the investigation begins. The foundation Tursten so carefully lays gives this story authenticity, and lays the foundation upon which Tursten in due time builds a compelling missing persons mystery.
HUNTING GAME may be a slow-burning crime story, but don’t let its measured pacing fool you: Tursten’s newest is binge-worthy in its own right. This spare, down-to-earth mystery delivers an immersive atmosphere, a protagonist to love, and a central mystery that readers will love unraveling alongside its compelling cast of characters. HUNTING GAME launches a new series from Tursten, and if Book 1 is any indication, it’s one I will be following closely for many series installments to come.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. All opinions my own.
Series: An Embla Nyström Investigation (Book 1)
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Soho Crime; Translation edition (February 26, 2019)
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