Review: Jan Costin Wagner – The Winter of the Lions

I read Wagner’s first book Ice Moon when it came out in 2006 and loved it. It was a moving tale of a murder investigation set to the background of a man’s grief for his recently dead wife. It could have been a difficult subject to get right but was very well done. However the writer dropped off my radar and his follow-up book Silence, published in 2010, passed me by. I noticed recently that he had had a third book published in 2011 so I did a quick catch up over Christmas, taking in both Silence  and his latest book The Winter of Lions.

The Winter of Lions features, once again, Detective Kimmo Joentaa who is investigating the murder of two men who have recently been guests on a famous TV talk show. The subject of the discussion had been the investigation of violent death and now both the forensic pathologist and the puppet maker, an expert at recreating dead bodies, have been killed. Kimmo is convinced that the key to the murder lies in the lifelike nature of the puppets and that one of the models was recognised by the killer. Once again Wagner manages to make the plot interesting without being too gruesome. The puppet maker has used photographs of violent deaths from plane and train crashes and somehow this doesn’t come across too gory in Wagner’s hands. The plot is slightly bizarre, but not so much so that it is completely unbelievable.

An interesting sub-plot was the emergence of a woman in Kimmo’s life, the enigmatic ‘Larissa’ whose background is uncertain. She is a hazy and slightly suspicious figure although Kimmo is obviously drawn to her. I imagine that she will feature heavily on later books but here she plays a supporting role, entering Kimmo’s life during the lonely Christmas period.

I had forgotten what a good writer Wagner was. His prose has a sparseness and matter of fact quality which works so well when dealing with difficult subjects. He is most definitely back on my radar now.

For other reviews see Eurocrime and International Noir Fiction.

11 thoughts on “Review: Jan Costin Wagner – The Winter of the Lions

  1. I, too, loved Ice Moon (a short book!) and although I enjoyed Silence and Winter of the Lions, they did not quite match up for me. Silence was in some ways not part of the linear narrative begun in Ice Moon but WotL returns to it. I liked some of the elements- the Kimmo/Larissa parts and the mysterious woman flashbacky parts. They were quite “hazy” and well-conveyed I think. I did think as a police procedural it was a bit weak though – nobody seemed to do anything much. And the denouement with the TV audience was not that strong. But I don’t mean to be critical, I did enjoy it, it’s very good crime fiction I think. Thanks for reminding me of it in your excellent review.


    1. Yes I liked the Kimmo/Larissa dynamic although it is a little strange. I hadn’t thought of it as a police procedural. There does seem to be a lot of sitting in the office and in cars now I come to think of it. He’s a good writer though. This is the type of book I really enjoy.


  2. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – I’m really glad that you liked this one and Maxine’s right; this is an excellent review. I read and enjoyed Silence, but haven’t read this one (yet). It’s very good to hear that it lives up to the promise of Wagner’s other work.


  3. Popped over for a read after your comment on my WoftL review – great minds clearly think alike 😉

    Have enjoyed looking around your excellent blog and have added you to my blogroll!

    Best, Mrs P.


  4. Pingback: Review: THE WINTER OF THE LIONS by Jan Costin Wagner | Reactions to Reading

  5. Pingback: The best of January’s reading. « crimepieces

  6. Pingback: Review: Jan Costin Wagner – Light in a Dark House | crimepieces

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