Review: Ture Sventon Privatdetektiv – en samlingsvolym, by Åke Holmström

Nothing short of hilarious!

When I was a kid I loved the stories about the lisping year-round Shrovetide bun-eating private-eye Ture Sventon. My memories as to why has been vague – I mainly remembered the stories being generally thrilling, but what isn’t to a 8-year old kid?! So, some time ago I found a omnibus containing three unabridged books, none of which I had, at a thrift shop. A 1970 hardcover edition, in very good condition. For the bargain price of 9 SEK (or approximately UK£0,8/€1,01/US$1,32). Of course I had to get it and read it, immediately, and well I was rewarded!

Now, it took some time to get around to the last of the three books (Ture Sventon i London). The reason was the intrusion made by the release of Cherryh’s Intruder, which demanded to be read and reread instantly. Now that is finished the last book went by in a whirr, and was almost as shrewd as the other two (Ture Sventon Privatdetektiv and Ture Sventon i öknen).

Ture Sventon Privatdetektiv (Private Detective) is the very first book in the series. Lisping private eye sits in his empty office wondering how to make odd ends meet, without a client in sight. He’s the very best of the best and the only problem is no one but himself knows that. So – no clients. The book tells the story of how he got his magic carpet, how he met his sidekick the inscrutable and ever so polite Omar, and how he got his reputation as a world class private eye.

The second book is Ture Sventon i öknen (Desert Detective). Sventon’s new fame has resulted in him being overloaded with work and he decides to go visit Omar in his oasis in the Arab desert, as a vacation. He is a bit worried over food – this Shrovetide buns needs refrigerating. Luckily he is acquainted with a fridge inventor who lends him a prototype of a new suitcase-sized fridge which shrinks the food, to maximise storage volume. Of course the prototype gets stolen, and so the story begins…

The last book in the omnibus, Ture Sventon i London, takes the reader to the English city and lets us experience the famous London fog as a practically broke English Lord needs help solving the mystery of the pointy shoes he has seen peek out from under a curtain in the library, not to mention the mysterious sounds that has his cook and maid threatening to quit.

All three books are deftly illustrated by Sven Hemmel and all of them are funny. Written to imitate the hard-boiled private eye books of the 1920’s but for kids so cleansed from the typical elements while retaining the style there is no end of what wonders Ture Sventon can do.

In Sweden there has been a debate concerning a perceived racism in the books. I can honestly say that I think that is pure paranoia. The books in this omnibus were written in 1948, 1949 and 1950 and while being a bit naive and simplistic in the portrayal of Omar and of Arabs – Omar can’t understand why anyone would drink tea when there’s coffee to be had, he takes his vacations in a tent in an oasis and he owns three camels – he displays none of the signs of a colonial and (or) sexist attitudes present in other authors of that time. The focus of the debate has been a book not included in the omnibus discussed here – it is called Ture Sventon i Paris, where he goes to France to find out what happens to the vanishing castles. Omar disguises himself as Sventon’s chauffeur, and he do so by applying black shoe polish. The way it is written it was clearly meant to be funny, even from the start – who on Earth would be fooled by that trick? Yet the book was omitted when the others were re-published recently.

Compared to the Tintin albums, which had to be redrawn and retold even during the lifetime of Hergé and despite that displays a colonial, racist and sexist attitude that leaves a sour aftertaste, Ture Sventon is clean and safe. And hilarious!

A real treat, if you ask me.

Some of the Sventon books have been translated to English – his name then is Tam Sventon.

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