Review: Pekka Hiltunen – Black Noise

Black NoiseFinnish author Pekka Hiltunen sets his thrillers in London which can make him a difficult writer to review. Is he part of the Scandinavian crime fiction wave, or should he be looked at alongside other British writers who set their books in the Capital? I thought the first of Hiltunen’s books to be translated, Cold Courage, a solid thriller although not enough was made of the hint of supernatural or ‘otherness’ of Mari, one of the protagonists. This is partially addressed in this second book which although very readable is marred by an unbelievable plot.

Videos are being loaded on YouTube which show young, gay men being kicked to death outside pubs and clubs around London. They come to the attention of ‘The Studio’ a group created by Mari to avenge wrongs that society appears unable to prevent. Mari’s latest recruit to the Studio is Lia, a fellow Finn, who has a day job as a graphic designer. Convinced that the police will never be able to discover the perpetrator of the crimes, the group investigate the murders with tragic consequences for one of their members.

This is a difficult book to review without giving away huge spoilers. If you’re planning to read the book, I suggest you skip the next part.

The initial premise is promising. Given the dominance of social media, murders that are documented on YouTube have a sense of both the possible and the luridly surreal. The problem is that the Studio discover that the killings are connected to a fan’s obsession with the rock group Queen. What follows is an almost farcical plot that concludes with the group visiting Freddie Mercury’s place of birth in Zanzibar. Hiltunen has clearly done a huge amount of research into Mercury’s life but if, like me, their music leaves you cold, it’s hard to care what happens for the rest of the book.

There are some touching moments in the novel. We learn about Mari’s experimental upbringing at the hands of socially progressive parents and the immense damage it caused her family. There are also moments of camaraderie amongst members of the Studio which suggests that there is plenty more mileage left in the series.

Like Cold Courage, Black Noise was readable and the story cracked on at a great pace. The book wasn’t for me, I’m afraid, but perhaps Queen fans might take a more benign view of the plot.

Thanks to Hesperus for my copy. The translation was by Owen F Witesman


The Best of July’s Reading

CalverFor crime fiction readers and writers the month of July is dominated by the Old Peculiar Crime Writing Festival in Harrogate. The weather was perfect and I had a wonderful time catching up with old and new friends. A summary of the days can be found here and here.

My reading slowed down a little because of work commitments but at least there wasn’t a bad book amongst the ones that I did read. I’m trying to alternate between Scandinavian crime fiction for the Petrona Award and everything else I want to read. My book of the month is one of the submissions for the Petrona. Cold Courage by Pekka Hiltunen was an unusual and creepy read and it was fascinating to read about London through the eyes of an expat.

The five books I read for crimepieces were:

1.  Scafell by Matthew Pink

2. Someone to Watch over Me by Yrsa Sigurðardóttir

3. Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen

4. Cold Courage by Pekka Hiltunen

5. The Innocence Game by Michael Harvey

To view the pick of the month from other crime fiction readers, head over to Mysteries in Paradise which has a useful round up reviewers choices.

Review: Pekka Hiltunen – Cold Courage

Cold CourageI’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.