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A towering exploration of grief
on 15 January 2016
The author, a German, has written a series of books featuring Deterctive Kimmo Joentaa and has colleagues in Turku. These books have two important characteristics, Joentaa is a strongly-drawn central character who is still suffering from the early death of his wife, Sanna, and they are short. They also have the benefit of a brilliant but unshowy translation by Anthea Bell who captures the pared-back style of the author..
The story, which unfolds between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Day [a time of the year that the detective dreads], is unfolded with regular introspective thoughts of the couple’s life together and their plans for the future, but it also introduces a disturbingly enigmatic character, the prostitute Larissa, who appears on the second page and remains until the last. Almost imperceptibly the reader follows a thaw in Joensmaa’s attitude to life.
The main storyline is centred on a two deaths that follow a TV discussion involving a puppet-maker who creates fake corpses for the films and a forensic pathologist who is a close colleague of Joentaa and his colleagues. Interspersed with this plot are the fragmentary comments by a female character whose significance only becomes clear as the book proceeds. The police investigation is shown to proceed by laborious teamwork and Joentaa’s insights and intuition. Around the detective a series of characters are fleshed out, perhaps the most memorable being one, Thomas Heinonen, with a gambling addiction that threatens to destroy his marriage.
The background to the story is the gloom of the Finnish winter that perfectly reflects Joenmaa’s own mental state. The locations range from the snowy wastes around Turku to urban Helsinki and the headquarters of a TV station where the minor characters and background information are especially well portrayed, the self-absorption of the former and of the charismatic TV host, Kai-Petteri Hämäläinen, much to the fore. One of the incidental pleasures is to boggle at the complexity of the Finnish names.
Wagner allows the story to develop at its own pace without any unnatural forcing. Joentaa’s background and the details that emerge from the investigation enables the author to explore the effects of grief on individuals and families, and how they attempt to deal with it. Both are addressed with considerable sensitivity.
This is the third in the series, following ‘Ice Moon’ and ‘Silence’, but can be read as a stand-alone. It is strongly recommended.