The Fire Dance

The Fire Dance

4.8 5
by Helene Tursten, Laura A. Wideburg

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In this sixth installment in the critically acclaimed Swedish crime series, the murder of a young ballerina named Sophie, apparently an arson victim, sets off shrill alarm bells for Detective Inspector Irene Huss, who remembers the matching details of an unsolved case from fifteen years earlier, when Irene had only just started in the police force. The stepfather of…  See more details below


In this sixth installment in the critically acclaimed Swedish crime series, the murder of a young ballerina named Sophie, apparently an arson victim, sets off shrill alarm bells for Detective Inspector Irene Huss, who remembers the matching details of an unsolved case from fifteen years earlier, when Irene had only just started in the police force. The stepfather of the then eight-year-old Sophie has been murdered in a very similar way, and at the time the girl herself had been under suspicions. The circumstances force Irene and her colleagues to confront an uncomfortable question: can a child be responsible for the cold-blooded murder of an adult? The case awakens vivid memories that take the reader back to Irene's days as a young police officer.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Swedish author Tursten isn't in top form, and neither is her lead character, in the disappointing sixth Inspector Irene Huss mystery (after 2013's The Golden Calf). In 1989, Irene, a novice policewoman, responded to a house fire in which a man died. The police suspected his 11-year-old stepdaughter, Sophie Malmborg, knew what happened and might even have started the fire, but Sophie refused to talk and the case went cold. Fifteen years later, a dancer's body is found incinerated in an abandoned shed. When Irene learns Sophie was the victim, she turns to the old case for clues. Her investigation takes her to the House of Dance, where Sophie had been choreographing "The Fire Dance," a performance resonant with personal history. Irene also encounters Sophie's scheming mother, Angelika, and half-brother, Frej, a photographer who appears obsessed with fire. Characters are complex and unusual, but Irene seems unfocused and misses an obvious clue that would have solved the mystery far earlier. Still, series fans should enjoy glimpsing her early days on the force and seeing her 18-year-old daughter, Katarina, find a passion for dance. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
Praise for The Fire Dance

"A strong mystery and an interesting setting . . . Readers will also find it entertaining to read about life in Sweden, which is not so foreign that outsiders can’t relate."
Romantic Times Book Reviews

"As in the previous five installments in the series, Irene juggles her police duties with family life . . . But she prevails somehow in both roles. At the same time, [Tursten] manages to move a crime story forward subtly with panache. Recommended."
Spinetingler Magazine

"Fans will enjoy the details of Huss’s early career and her continuing family saga . . . Readers of Anne Holt or Mari Jungstedt will enjoy this installment."
Library Journal

"Series fans should enjoy glimpsing her [Inspector Irene Huss] early days on the force and seeing her 18-year-old daughter, Katarina, find a passion for dance."
—Publishers Weekly 

"Irene juggles her police duties with family life, her gourmet chef husband and twin daughters who now exhibit minds of their own in relation to their interests and boyfriends . . . But she prevails somehow in both roles. At the same time, the author manages to move a crime story forward subtly with panache. Recommended."
—Midwest Book Review

"[The Fire Dance] slices realistically into and out of Huss’s professional and personal lives. Not everything is wrapped up neatly by the end . . . mak[ing] the reader both wonder about and anticipate the next installment. This is a great series, the audience for which hopefully will grow exponentially with each subsequent release."
—Book Reporter

"[Fire and] family secrets are at the core of this intriguing mystery [whose] subtle, clever plot development that makes you realize there's complexity . . . that will surface as the investigation proceeds."

"[Is The Fire Dance] good? You bet it is, especially due to the strong cast of characters Tursten has created—and those characters have more than one surprise in store for readers like me who have followed this series from the start."
—Kittling Books

"For those who enjoy solid police procedurals with a personal twist."
Scandinavian Crime Fiction

Praise for the Irene Huss series

"As good as Louise Welsh's similarly creepy tour of Glasgow."
Entertainment Weekly

"These days Scandinavian crime writers are thick on the ground. It's nice to see that the women can be just as bloodthirsty as the men."
The New York Times Book Review

"[Tursten] imbues this novel with a cold chill of dread that can't be attributed only to the subfreezing temperatures of Göteborg in winter."
Chicago Sun Times

"Truly satisfying."
Philadelphia Inquirer

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Product Details

Soho Press, Incorporated
Publication date:
Irene Huss Investigation , #6
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Sales rank:
File size:
2 MB

Read an Excerpt

The noise and heat from the crowd rose toward the ceiling and mixed with cigarette smoke into a thick smog at the level of the chandeliers. People crowded at the enormous bar and tried to catch the notice of the bartender. The atmosphere was frenzied and excited, as it usually was in the Park Aveny Hotel Bar during the annual meeting of the Gothenburg Book Fair. Some guests were already showing signs of incipient intoxication. Famous cultural personalities, as well as some not-so-famous ones, were hanging around the bar, although a few of them had wandered to some of the pub’s armchairs and were starting to doze.
           People kept coming and going through the revolving door, mingling as they headed toward the bar or the groups sitting at tables. Many still kept one eye on the entrance—a high-level celebrity could walk in at any moment, since most of the important authors were booked into this hotel. Unfortunately, most of the people who did come in were publishers and their employees, a goodly number of librarians and one or two poets, drunk from the attention given to their readings.
So many eyes were on the door people remembered the moment she stepped into the lobby and paused a moment just inside the revolving door. Even if their other memories were diffuse—or totally absent, in some cases—many people reacted to her entrance, and not just because of her extraordinary appearance. Many witnesses recalled a certain “vibe” or “aura” about her.
           She was tall and thin. She wore a black miniskirt, which ended just below her rump, and bright pink tights made from a shiny synthetic. She’d added black knit legwarmers that were pushed down around her ankles toward her flat shoes. Even though her shoes had no heels, her legs appeared to be sensationally long. She wore a short, black leather jacket over her thin, pink T-shirt, which revealed her small perky breasts more than covered them. Her leather jacket was decorated with rivets. Her outfit certainly was conspicuous, yet her pale face drew most of the attention. It was heart-shaped with high cheekbones, and her full lips seemed made for kissing. The firm lips, however, made it clear that any attempt to kiss her would meet with failure. Her eyes magnified that message. They were slightly almond-shaped and had thick, long lashes, which she accentuated with heavy, black eyeliner. Her brown eyes showed no emotion. As a hung-over poet would say later during questioning, “Her eyes were bottomless black wells which led to the permafrost of her soul.”
           She turned her head to search through the crowd. She found the face she was looking for and began to walk straight toward a table in the middle of the pub. All her movements were graceful and smooth.
           One man, back to the entrance, did not see her when she came in. As she passed by him, he lost his grip on his frosted beer glass. He blew on his hands and shook his fingers as if they’d been frozen with cold.
           A children’s book author, who was already seriously hammered, began to clumsily pull on his suit jacket while complaining about the draft from the door.
The truth was that the woman could move through the compact crowd with ease and yet every person drew away from her, either consciously or subconsciously.
           She reached the table she wanted and looked quietly at the boisterous people gathered there. One by one, the young people, uniformly dressed in black, fell silent and looked at her with astonishment. Finally, there was only one man who didn’t seem to have noticed her. He kept singing:
           Poeira, poeira, poeira, Levantou poeira.
           His voice was deep and pleasant. His entire appearance differed from his companions in their black uniformity. A clear red, skin-tight T-shirt emphasized his buff upper body and his jeans clung to his narrow hips. Around his neck, a wide gold chain glittered against his café au lait skin and a few tiny gold rings in his ear lobe shone with an intensity to match his teeth set off against his tanned face.
When he finished singing, he calmly turned to face the silent young woman. His entire face broke into a smile.
           “Hóla!” he exclaimed joyfully. He gestured for her to join them at their table.
           A slightly worse-for-wear blonde, her eyelids soot-colored and her lips painted black, gave the newcomer a disgruntled look. She left her seat beside the man and headed to the restroom on unsteady feet.
           The silent woman sat on the chair and stared at the man without blinking. He seemed totally unaware of the icy chill she was spreading all around her, but draped his arm over her shoulders. Unwillingly, she let him draw her close. The tension in her face and body began to soften somewhat. One of the young men began to recite a poem in a loud voice with the intensity of a poetry slam. The brown-eyed woman kept watching him. Even if it appeared that she did not understand the poem, she applauded politely when he was finished. She even smiled a little at a joke the black-clad poet made.
           A bouncer in a dark suit began to walk between the tables to warn the pub’s customers that it was closing time. A few older people had come to join the young group at the table with a tall man with scraggly white hair at their center.  He was twice as old as most of the young people, but he was a famous author and seemed to know one of the young people in the group. The sulky blonde had returned after an extremely long visit to the restroom.
           “Let’s go up to my room and keep the party going,” the white-haired author offered, his words slurring. “I have a suite on the top floor.”
           They all got up and headed toward the elevators. As the doors opened, everyone jostled inside, pushing and shoving a bit, but laughing all the while. Everyone except the woman in the miniskirt and pink tights.
           “I’m leaving,” she said.
          These were the only words she said that evening. The others called to her and tried to convince her to join them in the overstuffed elevator. She didn’t turn back, but walked steadily toward the wide stairs. The security guard let her pass, since he saw she was part of the great author’s group. The last they saw of her, before the elevator doors shut, was the reflection of the chandeliers shining down on her page-cut hair.
PART ONE: 1989 – 1990

She had to pee, but she tried not to think about it. She had to bike as fast as she could in order to get to the convenience store. Tessan’s mother would not wait for her. She was that kind of mother. If you weren’t where you were supposed to be on time, there’d be no ride for you. She had to get that ride or she wouldn’t make it on time since the bus took twice as long. Her dance class would be over before she even got there, which would mean that it wasn’t worth the effort if she missed her ride.
Her bicycle was almost new and she pedaled as hard as she could. The narrow gravel road spread out before her. There were no streetlights, and it was getting dark. She didn’t mind that, as she knew the way by heart, but she felt uneasy thinking about what could be behind some of the shrubbery all along the side of the road. What if there was a flasher behind one of the bushes?
          Stupid flashers, stupid flashers, stupid flashers, stupid flashers . . . the words tumbled in her brain while her feet drove the pedals mechanically.
           She began to feel relief as she caught a glimpse of the streetlights on the main road. Once she got there, she had to wait to let some of the cars pass. She got off her bike and glanced at the convenience store on the other side of the street. Her heart leaped as she saw Tessan’s mother’s red car parked in front of the building. She leaped back on her bike and darted across the street, almost being hit by a truck, but missing it by a hair’s breadth. The truck braked with a loud squeal and the driver honked the horn. She skidded in beside the Audi, and, breathless, she jumped off and threw her bike into the shrubbery beside the store. She grabbed the back door handle and scooted into the back seat. Tessan was sitting in the front seat, as usual, beside her mother.
           “Really, Sophie! You were almost run over! That could have been a terrible accident. And you didn’t lock your bike.”
           Her pulse was pounding so hard in her ears that she didn’t hear what Tessan’s mother was saying. She was panting hard and trying to get her breath under control.
          “Didn’t you hear me? You have to lock your bike,” Tessan’s mother repeated. She sounded irritated and strict. She often sounded irritated, although she kept trying to hide it with pleasant words.
           Sophie got out and dragged her bike out of the bushes and led it to the bike stand. She locked it and hurried back to the car.
           Drive now, drive now, drive now, drive now . . . the words tumbled through her head with the same rhythm as before.
           Finally the car was moving and leaving the parking lot. Sophie leaned back in her seat and relaxed with a great sigh.
           Made it, made it, made it, made it . . .
An ice-cold wind was blowing in from the sea. The chill bit Sophie’s ears and fingers as she biked back home a few hours later. In her hurry, she’d forgotten her mittens and knitted cap, of course.
           From far away, she saw rotating blue lights pulsing through the darkness. People were moving in the light from headlights. Farther away she could see other people moving in front of a red shine glowing in the darkness.
           Her legs did not want to keep moving. She couldn’t make it the last few hundred yards. She didn’t want to make it . . . don’t want to . . . don’t want to . . . don’t want to . . .
“We found the girl at the side of the road over there. It looked like she’d fallen over, and the bike was in the ditch below her. We were leaving the fire scene because we’d finished there, and our headlights caught her just sitting there. We thought it was strange, because the ambulance should have spotted her when it passed by just a few minutes earlier.”
           “Did she say anything?”
           “No, she just looked at us.”
           “Was she in shock?”
           “Absolutely. We drove her to Östra Hospital. Her little brother and her mother had already gone.”
           “Did you talk to her in the car?”
           “No. I wrapped her in a blanket and I sat with her in the back seat. I tried to say something comforting . . . but . . . she didn’t say a single word. It felt odd.”
           “What was odd about it?”
           “Hard to put my finger on it . . . just the fact she said nothing at all. She wasn’t calling for her mother or her brother. She didn’t even ask about them. She wasn’t crying, either.”
           “She just sat and stared?”
           “That’s right.”
           Commissioner Sven Andersson looked at his newest inspector thoughtfully. She’d joined the department just a month earlier. He had a hard time hiding his irritation that he’d gotten a female inspector. Also, she had two small kids and he didn’t like that one bit. The Commissioner sighed out loud and got a questioning look from his fresh-baked detective inspector.
           Irene Huss had a great deal of respect for her new boss. He had the reputation of being a really good policeman, even if he had some rough personality quirks. In addition, he was known to have a short fuse. She’d been nervous her first days on the job, but she was beginning to get used to her new boss. As long as she did her job, he would come to change his mind about her. And, besides, women officers were no longer so unusual on the force.
           “It’s been three months since that day you and your partner found that girl on the side of the road. Let me tell you, she still just sits and stares, saying nothing at all!”
           The Commissioner’s voice rose subconsciously, and his anger was apparent. Perhaps he was just frustrated, not angry. Irene knew that the Commissioner had no children of his own.
           Irene raised her eyebrows but said nothing, as she really didn’t know what she should be saying. She was not part of the investigation of the Björlanda District house fire. She and her colleague, Håkan Lund, had been the first patrol car on the scene, but that was all. The only thing she knew about the investigation was what she’d read in the newspapers.
           “Both Hasse and I tried to get her to talk, but it was just impossible! She just sat and stared and those big brown eyes of hers glared!”
           “Is she able to speak? I mean, are you sure she’s not mute?”
           “No, she can talk. She’s apparently the silent type, even before the fire, that is. Do you know how old she is?”
           Andersson gave her a look before he replied, “Read it for yourself. It’s all in the paperwork. You and Sophie Malmborg are going to take over the questioning.”
           “But why should I . . . ? I mean, if she won’t talk to you or Hans . . . ”
           “You’ve just answered your own question. She does not want to talk to us. Why? Maybe because we’re men. So the shrinks say. So we’re going to test that by putting you in. You’re a woman. You have kids yourself.”
           Irene felt completely floored. This was a big case to be just dumped in her lap. A man had died in the fire and there still were lots of unanswered questions. There were even indications that Sophie might know something important, or maybe more than that . . .
           “Or do you think you can’t handle it?” Andersson challenged.
           There was a threat beneath his sarcasm. If you can’t figure this out, you won’t stay long in this department.
           Irene felt her stomach turn into a clump of ice. Then a warm wave swept through her body and she forced herself to look her boss in the eye and steady her voice before she replied.
           “I’ll talk to her.”
           “Good. She’ll be here tomorrow.”

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