Ms.pegasus's Reviews > Lucifer's Tears

Lucifer's Tears by James Thompson
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's review
Apr 02, 2012

really liked it
bookshelves: fiction, history, mystery
Recommended for: lovers of Scandinavian mysteries; non-US locales
Read from August 30 to September 03, 2012 , read count: 1

LUCIFER'S TEARS is the second of Thompson's Inspector Vaara books. It's darker than it's predecessor, SNOW ANGELS. The psychology runs deeper, the events are more disturbing, and the characters drawn with more depth. The explanatory passages sufficiently summarize the backstory which includes the death of Vaara's first wife, his obsessive and tragic investigation of a murder in his home town, his dysfunctional childhood, and the death of a beloved younger sister. Thompson's writing has developed to such a degree that I would actually recommend reading this book first, and then the other book for comparative purposes. (Oops -- as several other reviewers have pointed out, that's a bad idea, because of the spoilers. So--read the books in series, but be advised that there is a real qualitative difference between the 2 books).

The first question one might ask is, what is the attraction of these far north European mysteries? Europe's northernmost countries are so unlike the United States with their densely populated cities hugging the southern coast line, and vast forbidding wilderness lying above the arctic circle. Family connections seem more stable and visible, with less transience (that's not to say that dysfunction isn't present just below the surface). Local customs like Joulupukki (Father Christmas) are still closely connected to their pagan origins. The attraction, however, is more than mere exoticism. History hovers like an uninvited ghost. World War II is a living memory for Finland. Long-coveted by neighboring Russia, its survival has meant frequent morally compromising choices. As the 90 year old war hero, Arvid Lahtinen bluntly observes: "...great men don't become great without getting their hands dirty." Heavy casualties and local outbreaks of civil war have left deep-seated animosities, particularly against the Russians. Finally, there are troubling social problems – alcoholism, racism (Vaara comes from the northern territories and learns some of his colleagues refer to him as a “dangerous Lapland redneck” linked to aspersions related to those cute reindeer – and he's accompanied by a resume of heroism. To this mix, Thompson has added multiple gruesome murders, a borderline psychotic partner (Milo) for Inspector Vaara, sexual perversion, and intimations of government corruption and conspiracy. This book is not for the faint-of-heart.

The intense psychological and emotional dilemmas encountered by Vaara are the real attraction of this book. For the past 8 months, he has been seeing a psychologist due to the traumatizing effects of his previous investigation. He is experiencing crippling migraines. And his wife is pregnant (he partially blames himself for her miscarriage). As if this were not enough, his wife's brother and sister will be meeting him for the first time and are planning an extended stay in his house to help out with the baby. The narrative is in first person, so we watch as Vaara hovers close to disintegration. Through an interior monlogue, we watch his aggressive defensiveness with his therapist, and the gradual train of realizations that lead to a modest break-through. It is a genuine pleasure listening to him grope for both honesty and for the courage to open up to his wife. At the same time, as a detective working some extremely sensitive cases, he must walk a narrow line, carefully considering how much he will tell her.

Some of the decisions Vaara makes are frankly appalling. Angrily, he brutalizes a drunken and delusional vagrant who is terrorizing some school children. Even more disturbing is the understanding that appears to be developing between Vaara and his boss, Jyri Ivalo.

Solution of the primary case is only one of the strands that hold the reader's interest. The book ends with resolution of the case, but with many loose ends on other fronts. Thompson ends the book on a cliff-hanger leaving us wondering: What will happen next?
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