Finland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s the-healercreFinland has been something of the poor relation when it comes to the popularity of Scandinavian crime fiction. I enjoyed Matti Joensuu’s the-healercreepy Priest of Evil and German writer Jan Costin Wagner, whose novels are set in Finland, have a strong sense of place. However, now we have The Healer by Antti Tuomainen, first published in 2010 which won the award for the Best Finnish Crime Novel of the Year. Its recent translation into English hopefully marks a trend for more books from Finland to appear in the UK.
In the run-up to Christmas, Tapani Lehtinen, a minor poet is searching for his journalist wife Johanna who has suddenly disappeared. The only clue to her whereabouts was a final telephone call as she attempted to track down information about a serial killer known as ‘The Healer’. Convinced that his wife has come to harm, Tapani visits her employer and friends to try to unearth the story that Johanna was working on. But Helsinki is slowly disintegrating in the midst of a climate catastrophe, residents are fleeing for the north of the country and the police are disinterested in helping Tapani find his wife.
This is the second book I’ve read featuring murder in a pre-apocalyptic setting. Ben H Winter’s The Last Policeman was one of my favourite crime reads of 2012 and it’s interesting how much tension you can get into a murder plot as society implodes on itself. Finalnd, and Helsinki in particular, seems ideally placed to feature a disintegrating community. The north of the country is portrayed as the utopia that city dwellers are trying to reach, allowing crime and disorder to fill the void in Helsinki.
The plot is interesting but nothing happens very fast. Tapani embarks on a lonely search for his wife, where no-one seems much interested in helping him out, not even close friends. He is sustained by the love that he feels for her, even when it comes under threat from the knowledge he discovers in relation to her past. But given that the action happens over a couple of days, the narrative seems both filled with events and yet nothing much happens.
The writing though is beautiful, the sparseness of the prose reflecting both the landscape and Tapani’s life as a poet. Ultimately the setting and writing were more successful that the plotting but it did feel like I was reading something different from the norm, which is always welcome....more
Given the masses of people that use London’s underground every day, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more crime novels set on the tube. AlthoughGiven the masses of people that use London’s underground every day, I’m surprised that there haven’t been more crime novels set on the tube. Although Baptism by Max Kinnings opens with the murder of a monk in Snowdonia, most if the action is centred around the hijacking of a London underground train and the attempts by a negotiator to secure the hostages’ freedom. For those of us who use the tube, of course, this is your worst nightmare and the author cleverly plays on all your fears in this fast-paced book.
George, a train driver on the underground, begins his morning with a familiar routine; waking up his young family and kissing his wife goodbye. However, he receives a phone call that reveals his wife and children are being held hostage and is given instructions to proceed to work as usual and follow the captor’s instructions. The day descends into nightmare as the kidnapper enters his cab instructs him to halt the train between stations. In the sweltering summer’s day, the passengers don’t initially realise the gravity of the situation.
When two armed policeman sent down on a reconnaissance mission are killed Ed Mallory, an experienced hostage negotiator is tasked with talking to the hijackers led by a religious fanatic and former soldier. When George leaves the telephone line open, the negotiating team realise that the team intend to use water to add a terrifying dimension to this already horrifying situation.
The book had a strong opening and I was interested to see how the narrative would develop. Kinnings has created two good protagonists – George the family man who never intended to become a train driver, and Ed, the blind hostage negotiator. I liked the back story to George, a failed poet and muscian who has never had the courage to follow his dreams. Ed also was given an interesting background – and I can belive that a blind negotiator could use his intuition effectivey in these kinds of situations. For me, the violence was slightly too strong and not for the faint hearted but it did fit in with the dynamic narrative and brutal situation.
I can’t see many people wanting to read this on the tube, but other than that I think it makes a fast moving and enjoyable read....more
The first three books in the Alex Mavros series were published between 2002 and 2004, forming a trilogy which reflected Paul Johnston’s experiences liThe first three books in the Alex Mavros series were published between 2002 and 2004, forming a trilogy which reflected Paul Johnston’s experiences living first on a Greek island and then in Athens. There then followed a hiatus in the series while the author wrote some other excellent books, although the Greek trilogy was reissued with a new publisher in 2009. Finally in 2011 we had a new book in the series, set on the island of Crete.
In his introduction, Johnston explains that rather than updating Mavros to 2012 and placing him in the middle of the Greek economic crisis, he wanted to pick up the narrative where it finished in the last book The Golden Silence. So The Silver Stain is set in 2003, which as he rightly points out was the period leading up to the Olympics, where huge public spending contributed to Greece’s current debt problems. Crete was a good choice of location for the book as there is a timelessness about the island with the vestiges of Minoan, Venetian, Ottoman and German occupation. It is the legacy of the Second World War that forms the basis of The Silver Stain.
Alex Mavros is hired by a film production company to find Maria Kondos, the assistant to glamorous actress Cara Parks, who has gone missing on Crete. Cara is refusing to carry on filming until her assistant is found and Alex is given a generous allowance to find the girl. However when he reaches the island he discovers the subject of the film, the Battle of Crete in 1941, is stirring up unhappy memories of the occupation for many islanders. When Rudi Kersten, the German owner of the luxury hotel where Alex is staying is found hanged from a tree, his fate seems connected to events of 1941. Alex’s investigation also brings him to the attention of one of the most dangerous villages on the island, Kornaria, which is a no-go area for local law enforcers because of its current drugs activities.
As you would expect from a Paul Johnston novel, the book was an absorbing read full of interesting detail about life on Crete. He cleverly makes much of the contradiction between the unhappy memories of Nazi occupation alongside the growing neo-Nazi movement amongst disaffected Greek youths, an issue very much in the news now. He also, through the narrative, emphasises the extent to which the events of the Second World War remain a continuing obsession amongst modern Greeks.
Crete remains an island with its own sense of justice and the imagined village of Kornaria has a real life precedent. Even other islanders despair at the lawlessness and corruption of the village that has bribed every official. Alex Mavros, with his leather jacket and gung-ho attitude seems at home in the setting and by emphasising his mixed Greek-Scottish ancestry, you can see the tension between his patriotism and his despair at the irrationality of many of the islanders’ attitudes. However, there is also a sense of things changing. The Tsifakis family are a wonderful creation, Cretan, but helping Alex to uncover wrongdoings on the island
As a crime novel, The Silver Stain worked well and there were couple of red-herrings so I had fixated on the wrong character as the villain. Alex’s girlfriend, Niki, remains the only irritating character in this series and I had hoped she wouldn’t reappear in this book. I’m sure it’s deliberate as Alex seems as irritated with her as the reader. There are apparently more Alex Mavros books on their way which I’m already looking forward to reading....more
A commonly made criticism of crime fiction is that murders take place in relatively small areas that you would normally expect to experience a violentA commonly made criticism of crime fiction is that murders take place in relatively small areas that you would normally expect to experience a violent crime, say, once every five years. You could make this argument in relation to murders set in sleepy villages, universities, multi-national corporations and so on. Although as crime fiction readers, we are usually happy to put aside such practical considerations it is nice to read a book where the focus of a crime scene seems absolutely right for the small community.
Containment by Vanda Symon begins with a shipload of containers being washed up on a beach in Dunedin, New Zealand. Locals scramble to plunder what goods are available, but this is no benign Whisky Galore plot. Instead, while trying to contain the volume of the thefts, Detective Constable Sam Shepherd is knocked unconscious by one of the looters.
After a dramatic start, the book then slows the pace as Sam’s injuries are revealed and she saves the life of her assailant when he stops breathing in the ambulance. We get to see the tensions in Sam’s personal life, including her relationship with Paul her police officer boyfriend, who drops the bombshell that he intends to transfer to Dunedin. Sam has a wonderful narrative voice, pure New Zealand with many of the characteristics we would expect of a female police officer, without the clichés.
The narrative picks up pace again when the body of a diver is pulled from the sea. The description of the decaying body is stomach-churningly gruesome and links start to appear with the contents of the containers that washed up on the beach.
This was an excellent read from a new (to me) author. It wasn’t just the setting that made the book stand out. Symon is wonderful at characterisation, and the supporting characters spring to life from the page, including the stoned Jase, the disabled Spaz (there is an explanation for his non-pc moniker in the book) and the violent Felix Ford. In the end, there does turn out to be murder and mayhem in this small community but the scale of it, even as it ratchets up, feels absolutely right. Let’s hope that more books by this excellent author are published in the UK soon....more
There has always been a fair amount of gore in Kellerman’s books but this one in particular was particularly gruesome. Vita Berlin is a malicious andThere has always been a fair amount of gore in Kellerman’s books but this one in particular was particularly gruesome. Vita Berlin is a malicious and unpleasant woman whose eviscerated remains are found in her apartment. It is the start of a spate of killings where the level of violence shocks even hardened detectives from the LAPD and hints at a level of mental illness from the perpetrator.
A link is discovered with a former state psychiatric hospital where a specialised care unit was set up, a hospital within a hospital, to house the most disturbed patients away from others. It emerges that a patient with a grudge against medical staff is picking off victims to atone for past mistreatment.
The strength of Kellerman’s previous books was his knowledge of psychology, particularly when it relates to disturbed children. He brings his experiences of working as a clinical psychologist back into this book and the sections where he talks about mental illness amongst young people and inappropriate mistreatments that were administered are well written. The characters slot into their normal roles although this book is more a police procedural than others, as the private lives of the two central characters are kept to a minimum.
Given that this is his 27th book Kellerman has, I think, attempted to return to the roots of his early books with the focus on the psychological. But I found the extremity of the violence unpleasant because it was so excessive. There is a convincing explanation for it and the wounds, I suppose, are not dissimilar to those inflicted by Jack the Ripper in nineteenth century London. I think I found it distasteful because although the shock of the discoveries on the characters is made clear, the plot would have worked equally well without such extreme violence....more