Snow Angels - Inspector Vaara, Bk 1 Author:James Thompson It is called kaamos -- two weeks of unrelenting darkness and soul-numbing cold that falls upon Finnish Lapland, a hundred miles into the Arctic Circle, just before Christmas. Some get through it with the help of cheap Russian alcohol; some sink into depression. — This year, it may have driven someone mad enough to commit murder. The brutalized bo... more »dy of a beautiful Somali woman has been found in the snow, and Inspector Kari Vaara must find her killer. It will be a challenge in a place where ugly things lurk under frozen surfaces, and silence is a way of life.« less
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There is a lot of interest in Scandinavian crime novels after the Steig Larson books. This one is written by an American who lived in Finland, and is set in Finland, above the Arctic Circle.
I read a lot of crime novels (police procedurals) and this is one of the best I've read in a long time. The writing seems stilted at times, but eventually, you come to appreciate the wide gulf between the characters and the reader as well as the wide language gulf. Thompson does an incredible job here. I cannot wait to get his second book.
I've been feasting from the smorgasbord of Scandinavian mysteries for the past couple of years, so when I discovered a new-to-me crime fiction author from Finland, I couldn't wait to get a copy of the book.
James Thompson is Kentucky -born and -raised. He's fluent in Swedish and Finnish and has lived in Finland for the past ten years. He's in the enviable position of not needing a translator. But I digress.
It's Kaamos, the bleakest time of year in Lapland just before Christmas. The unrelenting darkness and extreme cold above the Arctic Circle seem to make the residents drink to excess and do crazy things. Inspector Kari Vaara is used to this, but when a beautiful Somali immigrant's mutilated body is found in a snowfield, he knows that he has a potentially explosive situation on his hands. This murder could be a hate crime. It could be a sex crime. It could be both, but it's essential that Vaara keeps this case out of the national news because it could rock this small xenophobic nation to its foundations.
Once again I found myself immersed in a story where the setting is a character in itself. In this case, it was a very unsettling character for me because one of my ideas of hell is a place that's always dark and always cold. Thompson skillfully lets the landscape work its way under the skin without going over the top. I liked that.
I also liked the character of Vaara. Vaara is haunted by his rough childhood and his failed first marriage. His young American wife is finding it very difficult to adjust to Arctic climate and Finnish isolation and silence.
The pacing of Snow Angels flowed smoothly, and although I found the identity of the killer rather easy to solve, learning about Finland, the characterizations and the setting of the book more than made up for that one glitch. I'm really looking forward to reading Thompson's next book.
A few decades ago, Ross MacDonald wrote about very grim murders in the La-La Land of Southern California. His protagonist, Lew Archer, a cynical direct descendent of Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, usually unhinged a pile of human evil that spilled out all over the pages, like a locked closet filled with the old bones of corpses, finally opened. Archer never solved crimes, he was a indomitable meddler, opening locked closets. Before the last page, one murder would be followed, deus ex machina, by several more, and the scales would wobble back into some uneasy balance. The gruesome remains of dead and survivors, and the chaos of the human condition were scattered around the last scene, like some multi-car pile-up with fatalities, passing outside our windows, as we roll on.
If Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer were a police inspector in rural Finland, above the Arctic Circle, facing a hideous murder with ties to a Hollywood slaying from long, long ago, Archer would recognize James Thompson's Inspector Kari Vaara and his methods of investigation. Vaara has all the CSI forensic technologies Archer never dreamed of, but they don't really help. Like crimes from La-La Land, murder in the long night of total Arctic darkness is really about those closets of sin, evil, and human darkness, and Vaara and Archer know there is really no solving the puzzles of the darkest closets of psyche and soul. You just have to let the light in.
You cannot ask for a better first novel than Thompson's "Snow Angels" and you will not want to let his hero, Inspector Kari Vaara, rest on his well-deserved laurels. Like the "Snow Angels" case, you know the next will have no angels, and the toll will be just as ugly as that mangled pile-up Vaara left behind in this case.
But you just can't wait.
Ross, Lew, reader; welcome to Finland.
This is hands down one of the most excellent mystery and police detective first of series books for a LONG time! It also provides a glimpse into Finnish society/culture above the arctic circle, especially during the 2 weeks of unrelenting night without the sun at sub zero temperatures for weeks on end. And as one would expect, some people's frustrations break under those conditions. Murder and mayhem. Our Main good guy, Inspector Vaara and his American wife are challenged by the long night and by the bizarre events of the multiple murders he must solve, as well.