harryknuckles's Reviews > The Glass Devil

The Glass Devil by Helene Tursten
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's review
Dec 20, 2011

it was amazing
Read in December, 2011

The principal of a high school telephones his friend, Inspector Andersson of the Göteborg Crime Police; one of his teachers failed to show up for work. To Inspector Irene Huss’ surprise, on the basis of this vague complaint her boss drives out with her to a remote cottage in snowbound southern Sweden to investigate. There they find a body, its head blasted by a rifle. Teacher Jacob Schyttelius has been murdered. When they go to break the news to his elderly parents, Pastor Sten Schyttelius and his wife, they find the couple dead in their beds, each shot between the eyes. Upside-down pentagrams have been drawn in blood on their computer screens. The only surviving member of the family is a daughter, now residing in London, but she is too distressed to be interviewed. Is the killer a member of a satanic cult? Is it the parish treasurer, rumored to have been embezzling church funds? Or one of the assistant pastors, tired of waiting for a promotion? Perhaps the attractive blonde who sings in church and practices witchcraft? Irene Huss has a hunch that the answer lies in England, and she travels there twice to discover the reason for this triple homicide.
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 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.
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.
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