Book Review: Winter Grave by Helene Tursten
By Ray PalenFebruary 26, 2020
Winter Grave by Helene Tursten is a thrilling mystery set in rural Sweden, where Detective Inspector Embla Nyström must solve a murder case and find two missing children before the small town takes matters into their own hands.
The Embla Nystrom Investigation series by Swedish author Helene Tursten has seemingly flown under the radar. Thanks to authors like Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbø, Nordic noir is a genre all its own now, boasting dozens of skilled writers penning stories set in this frigid landscape. All I can say is that if you’ve been missing Tursten’s novels featuring Nystrom or her terrific DI Irene Huss series, you’re in for a treat.
Any crime is sure to make a powerful impact on the families and immediate communities where it took place. When a crime happens in an extremely small village, it seemingly affects every single resident there. Thus is the case with the initial crime in Winter Grave.
What begins as a standard missing-persons case quickly balloons into something that will have the entire town of Strömstad, Sweden, shouting for answers. The underlying truth that DI Nystrom understands is that things will not get easier once the guilty party is found because it will most likely be one of their own neighbors who committed the crime.
Young Tuva and her friend Amelie are leaving school together, and Tuva agrees to walk Amelie to the bus stop. Unfortunately, it is not only frigid out but also pouring rain. Tuva spots a vehicle they know and indicates that Amelie can catch a ride instead of waiting at the freezing, wet bus stop. This is the last time Tuva—or nearly anyone else—will see little Amelie alive. Amelie was supposed to rejoin Tuva a little later at their school to practice for a Christmas concert. When her mother, Maria, shows up at the school, she is alarmed that Amelie is not there and indicates that she never made it home.
The local police are called, and a manhunt of family, friends, and neighbors is quickly put together to search for Amelie. Meanwhile, Tuva shares that the person who gave Amelie a lift earlier was a local teenager named Kristoffer. Not only is Kristoffer the son of a wealthy local business owner named Olof Sjoberg but he is also mentally disabled. As the police attempt to question Kristoffer, his father throws the family attorney at the police, swearing the entire time that his son is innocent of any crime.
Not long after Amelie’s disappearance, police receive word on another missing child—this one a 6-year-old boy named Viggo Andersson. The town is now entirely up in arms and cannot understand how the police are both unable to find the guilty party and also incapable of keeping local children safe from harm. DI Nystrom is thrown into a potboiler of a situation not long removed from her own personal nightmare that found her nearly killed during a murder investigation. Readers of Helene Tursten will just love when DIs Nystrom and Huss briefly collaborate in this story as the author is showing that the local police are pulling in all their heavy hitters to solve this dynamite box of a case.
What makes Winter Grave such a chilling read is that it not only deals with the horror of violent crime against children but also forces everyone to recognize that the face of horror is a face worn by someone they call neighbor, friend, or even family member. Helene Tursten fuses this story with plenty of plot twists that make it play through like a classic whodunit. Additionally, the crimes awaken a past wound of DI Nystrom as it makes her once again relive the disappearance of a friend when they were children. Winter Grave is an ideal read for a cold, wintry night.