Review: Jan Costin Wagner – Light in a Dark House

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a big fan of Jan Costin Wagner. I read his first book, Ice Moon, back in 2006 when it was first translated into English. Since then, the books have slowly been slowly trickling through, each one eagerly awaited by me. I was lucky enough to meet the author at the CWA Crime Writing Festival in July and discuss his writing with him. There is strong sense of development in the series. The first book opens with the death of Sanna, the wife of police detective Kimmo Joentaa. It sets the tone for the rest of the books: sad, reflective and sometimes utterly bleak. By the end of The Winter of the Lions, Kimmo has entered into a relationship with a prostitute, who he only knows by her assumed name, Larissa. This provides the starting point for the fourth book in the series, Light in a Dark House.

Kimmo is called to investigate the case of a woman in a coma who has been killed while the murderer wept over the body. It triggers a series of murders which have their roots in the brutal assault in a teenage girl in the 1980s. Kimmo tries to unravel the case while fruitlessly e-mailing his girlfriend who has left home following an awkward meeting with his boss at his party. But Larissa’s experience as a prostitute is also giving her insight into the violent motives behind the murder.

The book, for me, lived up to my expectations largely I suspect because Costin Wagner doesn’t churn out his novels. Instead, we’re getting a slow but reflective series that deals with some of the potent issues in Finnish society – in this book it’s the violence against women. The descriptions of Finland are divine and it is here that the German author’s view from outside of the culture is so interesting.

The relationship between Kimmo and Larissa does get a little wearying at times. I found that the detective’s obsession with the enigmatic prostitute was allowed to dominate the narrative in some sections but then Costin Wagner’s books have always been more about relationships than simply a straightforward murder plot.

I hope that Light in a Dark House introduces new fans to this wonderful writer. I suspect his books won’t be for everyone. There’s nothing warm or cosy about either the content or the style of his books. But, for me, he’s one of the best.

The best of January’s reading.

January, a miserable month for us living in the northern hemisphere, was redeemed by some excellent crime fiction reading. I read 10 books for crimepieces and perhaps because there was a stong Scandinavian presence, the common theme seemed to be murders set to the backdrop of freezing winters. However, the highlight of my month was set in a much warmer climate, the Australian Desert. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland combined sparky writing with a great sense of place and one of the best female detectives around.

The books I read in January were:

1. Death and the Spanish Lady by Carolyn Morwood. (completed as part of the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge).

2. The Circular Staircase by Mary Roberts Rinehart

3. The Winter of the Lions by Jan Costin Wagner

4. Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George

5. Gunshot Road by Adrian Hyland

6. V is for Vengeance by Sue Grafton (also reviewed for crimesquad.com)

7. The Mask of Glass by Holly Roth

8. The Final Murder by Anne Holt

9. 1222 by Anne Holt

10. Midwinter Sacrifice by Mons Kallentoft

Kerrie over at Mysteries in Paradise is hosting a meme summarizing the crime fiction recommendations for January 2012.