Review: Kati Hiekkapelto – The Hummingbird

hummingbirdWe haven’t seen the volume of Finnish crime novels translated into English as I’d have expected given the rise in popularity of Nordic noir. I’m not sure why this is the case. Most of the books from Finland that I’ve read recently have been excellent but it may well be that we’re getting the cream of crime fiction from the country. The Hummingbird by Kati Hiekkapelto is a strong addition to the genre. There’s a rawness to the writing that comes from an author willing to take risks with their work.

Anna Fekke arrived as a child in Finland as a refugee from the Yugoslavian wars. She is now beginning a career as a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish town but is assigned to a team that seems oblivious to casual incidences of racism. Her first week is marked by the murder of a woman jogger and Anna’s inexperience as an investigator is exacerbated by her paring with a racist partner. Another murder, soon after the first, suggests the possibility of a serial killer which stretches the resources of the small team.

The Hummingbird is almost two separate narratives that intertwine to provide a substantial read. Firstly we have the murder and its investigation. There’s a serial killer thread which includes the placing of a ‘trophy’ on the victims. However, there’s a nice to twist to this storyline and I thought it well done. The book’s real strength, though, is the character of Anna Fekke and the focus on her coming to terms with her refugee past. You see Anna’s conflicted views towards both her own community which she tries to untangle herself from and also her new ‘home’ in the police which isn’t as expected. She’s a flawed character which adds to the depth of her portrayal.

Hopefully we’ll have further books from Hiekkapelto as the writing is crisp and refreshing. As a small addendum, I think the book cover is one of the nicest I’ve seen in a long time. I rarely pay any attention to them, but I thought this one beautiful.

Thanks to Arcadia Books for my review copy. The excellent translation was by David Hackston. The Hummingbird has been shortlisted for the 2015 Petrona Award for translated Scandinavian crime fiction.

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