The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto
When an old man is found dead on the road – seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair – police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted.
First Impressions: Another complex and compelling crime for Anna and the team to solve!
Highlights: Many of the things I loved about The Hummingbird carry over to this second novel in the series. What I didn’t mention before was the way the author so perfectly captures the pull between two geographic locations, neither of which feels 100% like home. The author is also really clever in not just sensationalising problems with the arrivals of refugees and asylum seekers but describing matter of factly the long term social problems of those granted residency. How she has managed to do all this and still have at the core of the novel an intriguing police procedural is amazing! I also liked how Esko’s character is developing. I have a soft spot for the gruff and cantankerous detective!
If I was an editor: It’s hard to find fault with this novel but I can say that I did prefer the crime in the previous novel but that really would be hard to top! Also, I would have liked more mystery with the Hungarian nanny. What else could she be hiding? Maybe we find out in the next book…
Overall: How many months until book 3 is published?
The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto
Anna Fekete becomes a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish coastal town and is thrust into a sensational murder investigation: A young woman has been killed on a running trail, and a pendant depicting an Aztec god has been found in her possession. Can Anna catch the Hummingbird before he – or she – strikes again?
First Impressions: This story is highly addictive from the start and I love the setting in the northern Finnish town.
Highlights: There is so much to love in this crime novel. Anna is a very interesting character with her background and quirks. At times I thought that maybe she needed to be a bit more hard boiled but by the end I realised the author had got the balance right. You read a lot in the news about the advantages women in Scandi countries have and this is reflected in the story with the working lives and independence of some of Anna’s colleagues. I also developed a soft spot for Anna’s partner Esko by the end.
The refugee situation was interesting to read about and I had some of those thought provoking moments you get when you read books in translations – wow, the situation for refugees is the same in Finland as the UK. In the past I would have added Australia to this comparison but off-shore detention makes it hard to draw parallels to any other system. On a more whimsical note, I liked the inclusion of Marianne sweets – my grandmother has always had a bowl of these in her sitting room and I even found one of my Christmas Mariannes hidden under the computer table when I sat down to write this review!
If I was an editor: I did wonder if Esko would be able to get away with some of his comments and attitudes in a modern Finnish workplace that should promote equal opportunities… but perhaps he could. There’s always the veneer and the reality. As an aside, I was also surprised at how a progressive country like Finland doesn’t yet have honour violence laws. The references to balcony angels surprised me and were incredibly sad.
Early on I did wonder if Sari’s extended chatting to Anna was typically Finnish and maybe the author was using this as a device to provide background in this first novel. As it turns out, no, that’s just Sari’s character and she can be a breath of fresh air.
Finally I loved the elderly residents interviewed during the investigation and would have loved them to be even more eccentric!
Overall: Addictive with an interesting crime at its centre. I must admit that I had bought and read the second book before even contemplating this review!
The Healer by Antti Tuomainen
It’s two days before Christmas and Helsinki is battling ruthless climate catastrophe: subway tunnels are flooded; the streets are full of abandoned vehicles; the social order is crumbling and private security firms have undermined the police force. Tapani Lehtinen, a struggling poet, is among the few still willing to live in the city. When Tapani’s journalist wife Johanna goes missing, he embarks on a frantic hunt for her. Johanna’s disappearance seems to be connected to a story she was researching about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’.
First Impressions: I really liked the world of climate change Helskinki that you were thrown into as it was all enveloping and completely believable. There is chaos but the city is still functioning and recognisable. You are treated to this consistent world all the way through the novel and again, like in Tuomainen’s Dark as My Heart, I wish I knew Helsinki better to fully appreciate his descriptions.
Highlights: There was lots associated with the climate change world I enjoyed and found thoughtful like the refugee problems; although the context was different the social problems and attitudes were the same as we have now. I loved the author’s cool and poetic writing style and the way Tapani seems detached from his surroundings. The security companies and police operations were interesting (and probably recognisable today in some corrupt countries) as were the differences between the wealthy and ordinary citizens.
If I was an editor: What an original novel! Could it be longer to draw out the intrigue?
Overall: A fantastic noir/serial killer/climate change mash up. I’m all in on Cli-Fi if this is the benchmark!
Dark as My Heart by Antti Tuomainen
Aleksi lost his mother on a rainy October day when he was thirteen years old. Twenty years later, he is certain that he knows who’s responsible. Everything points to millionaire Henrik Saarinen. The police don’t agree. He has only one option: to get close to Saarinen and find out the truth about his mother’s fate on his own. But as Aleksi soon discovers, delving into Saarinen and his alluring daughter’s family secrets is a confusing and dangerous enterprise.
First Impressions: I liked Alexi’s measured narrative tone in this novel. The references to his mother definitely made me want to keep reading. It all felt a little…creepy.
Highlights: This is a well paced crime novel and I did not guess the outcome. I liked Scandi crime fiction and this novel really stood out as crime fiction set in Finland is hard to come by. I almost wish I was reading it in paperback rather than on my kindle so I could easily flick back to look up all the location references. Being part Finnish I have visited to Helsinki a few times and couldn’t help but get a thrill when I saw mentions of, for instance, Suomenlinna Fort. I wish I was more familiar with some of the locations! The Helsinki setting is rather poetic and invigorating. I also liked the wizened detective Ketomaa and wish he appeared more.
If I was an editor: Yes, as the reviews state it is part Greek tragedy for Alexsi and part Gothic horror in the Saarinen mansion. It was magnificent as a whole but fell ever so slightly short of making me desperate to keep reading while looking after my toddler.
Overall: Highly recommended. Will be reading Tuomainen’s previous novel The Healer.
Dark as My Heart: 4 Stars