Review: “Hunting Game (Embla Nyström #1)” by Helene Tursten

Hunting Game by Helene Tursten book cover from Goodreads, background photo by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

Original background cover photo credit: Photo by Artiom Vallat on Unsplash

After nine rock-hard rounds, the sweat was dripping from both combatants and their movements were noticeably slower.

Hunting Game pg 1 opening

Author: Helene TurstenPaul Norlén (Translation)
Publication Date: February 26th 2019 (first published August 1st 2014)
Publisher: Soho Crime 
Genre: Mystery / Thriller
Find it on: Goodreads

Synopsis

The first installment in Helene Tursten’s brand new series featuring the strong, smart Detective Inspector Embla Nyström.

From a young age, 28-year-old Embla Nyström has been plagued by chronic nightmares and racing thoughts. Though she still develops unhealthy fixations and makes rash decisions from time to time, 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 prize-winning 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, an enigmatic young divorcé. And she isn’t the only one to take 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 men from a neighboring group of hunters. Embla takes charge of the search, and they soon find one of the missing men floating facedown in the nearby lake, his arm tightly wedged between two rocks. Just what she needs on her vacation. With the help of local reinforcements, Embla delves into the dark pasts of her fellow hunters in search of a killer.

From Goodreads

Review

Book Content Warnings: animal hunting/trapping, drug addiction, abduction, underage drinking, assault, suicide, rape

Hunting Game by Helene Tursten throws readers deep into the snowy banks of a chilly isolated Nordic mystery. Main character Detective Inspector Embla is an excellent investigator and strong hunter. Each year she lets off steam by joining in the annual moose hunt with a crew of family and friends. It’s a tradition that they take very seriously. But this year things start on an off key and slide quickly downhill. The hunt is ruined and lives are on the line as Embla and her team battle the cold to find a murderer in his element.

The hunting and trapping features were a big draw for me in picking up this book. There are a number of isolated winter thrillers with spunky detectives, but the overlay of tradition and rough outdoorsman culture set this apart as an interesting read. I would say the book half delivered on this. We start out with the prickly hunting crew, gathered together and bristling at the outsider joining this year. There’s some hunting and boasting, but once an incident happens we slide into investigation mode. I wished there was a bit more hunting/trapping or outdoorsman survival integrated later in the story, though I understand the need to balance that with the progressing killer search. Which…you could frame as a hunt in a way 😛

Short chapters speed the story along nicely and the book is well sized. Helene Torsten seeds in a simmering group tension pretty early in the story that keeps readers guessing at the culprit. The conclusion wasn’t completely obvious to me, which is always nice. Overall I would call this more on the mystery side than thriller. There was some action but nothing overly dramatic in my opinion.

As an aside, there were two specific things that caught me off guard about the book I’d call out. One positive, one irksome. Starting positive – the food descriptions in this book were so unexpectedly well done! Everything sounded so delicious I found myself getting hungry as Embla and her group sat down to eat. Less positively, there was a totally bizarre shoutout to modern culture when – in the middle of the woods – Embla breaks off and randomly starts singing a few lines of “What Does the Fox Say.” Now…if you haven’t heard that song please take a moment to look it up on YouTube and come back. You’ll understand how jarring it is to be in the middle of a chilly hunt for a killer and have the inspector break out into that song. Have it play in your head out of nowhere. I don’t hate the song incidentally, I just hated how it was interjected. But I hope out there somewhere Helene Tursten is laughing herself to side stitches about that.

In summary I enjoyed the unique premise of a “hunting party” bringing something different to the usual snowy search for a killer. Embla’s character was fun to read, and the police trio she’s a part of was even more so. I would consider reading another story of them altogether, even if on an individual character basis this book wasn’t the most memorable for me. A nice winter read to snuggle up with and pass the time.

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