I’ve been reading more Finnish books recently and it’s interesting to see the subtle differences in the crime fiction produced from the Scandinavian countries. I’ve noticed that, for example, with the books translated into English from Finland, there is a tendency to stretch the boundaries of the genre. Books have a dystopian or other-worldly feel to the setting which adds to the sense of dislocation and loss.
Cold Courage by Pekka Hiltunen is an unusual story about a Finnish expat living in London who unwittingly witnesses the aftermath of a violent murder of a Latvian prostitute and becomes drawn into the hunt for the murderer. This narrative strand would be interesting enough but Lia also meets a fellow Finn, Mari, who claims to be able to read the thoughts of the people around her. This dubious ‘gift has clearly caused Mari a great deal of personal distress and she now runs a secretive organisation that fixes people’s problems, stepping in where the law fails to act. Their latest target is a far-right politician whose violent domestic life and dodgy tax schemes are about to be revealed.
I think this is one of the first times that I’ve read a book set in London that has been translated from another language. Hiltunen has an instinctive feel for the city and in particular the sense of isolation that accompanies expat life. Lia’s backstory has particular resonance. The brief description of how she has professionally crawled her way into a decent job as a graphic designer on a newspaper rings true; London is the city where careers can be made by those willing to devote their time and energy in the pursuit of success. Her meeting with Mari comes on a night of drinking with colleagues and again the writer captures the manic, booze sodden feel of these evenings.
The murder of the woman from Latvia is an obsession for Lia and we are given glimpses of the Latvian community of woman sex workers who live in London. Lia’s difficulty in gaining information about these woman rings true and the legal difficulties of these women, who come from a country within the EU, make poignant reading. I personally found more interesting the story of Mari and her secretive organisation. There’s something attractive about a group of people who set out to right society’s wrongs and the unit, named ‘Studio’, is made up of four disparate people who work undercover to expose their targets. Mari is the driving force and, although she comes cleaarly across on the page, I would like to have seen more made of her gift of being able to read people’s thoughts and emotions. It seemed a little under-developed here but will make for a cracking series if Hiltunen writes any more novels.
I found the book to be an attractive and engrossing read and I hope that Hiltunen picks up some new fans through this publication. Thanks to Hesperus Press for my copy of the book. An interview with the author can be found here.