41mxo4kt01l-_sx322_bo1204203200_Anna Fekete returns to the Balkan village of her birth for a relaxing summer holiday. But when her purse is stolen and the thief is found dead on the banks of the river, Anna is pulled into a murder case. Her investigation leads straight to her own family, to closely guarded secrets concealing a horrendous travesty of justice that threatens them all. As layer after layer of corruption, deceit and guilt are revealed, Anna is caught up in the refugee crisis spreading like wildfire across Europe. How long will it take before everything explodes?

Having waxed lyrical about the previous book The Defenceless from edgy Finnish writer, Kati Hiekkapelto, it was great to dive into this one, again featuring Hungarian detective Anna Fekete. I am rather partial to books where the main protagonist is removed from their normal stomping ground, and how the vacations they take are never the most relaxing of affairs. The Exiled fits the bill perfectly…

Anna Fekete is a prickly and forthright woman, with a somewhat abrasive manner that exasperates and delights in equal measure. I particularly enjoyed the verbal sparring between herself and her mother, on her trip back to her parental home, and Anna’s general doggedness and interference in the gradually revealed corruption within the local police force. She proves herself a keen and formidable irritant to most people, and Heikkapelto pulls no punches in painting a vivid picture of Anna’s somewhat derisory attitude to both childhood acquaintances and local figures in the community. Finding herself inveigled in the suspicious death of a petty thief soon after her arrival, Anna uses her detective nous, and the resources open to her, calling on assistance back home in Finland, to expose a dark and bleak tale centring on the refugee community.

Through her eyes, the neglect and danger that those traversing Europe in search of a safer home experience is brought to the centre of our attention, and her generally sympathetic view to those she encounters, coloured by her own identity as a migrant, works as a powerful conduit for Hiekkapelto to provide a broad and realistic depiction of the refugee crisis. There are also additional points of interest, as the chequered history of the Balkan region is woven into the plot, and a focus on the issues of identity and belonging that have arisen from the break up of Yugoslavia are explored both through Anna’s familial history, and those she interacts with. It’s always incredibly satisfying to read a book that provides deeper levels of interest alongside the main plot, and gives a richness and texture to the prose to sate the reader. With this added scope to the book, the main plot still stands strongly within it, and the investigation that Anna undertakes to satisfy the numerous questions that arise for her is well-realised and played out, and their is an underlying current of tension throughout. As Anna finds herself increasingly at risk, but being as determined as a dog with a bone, I was totally caught up in this story from the start, and pulled in once again by the magnetism of Anna’s character, and her unerring ability to use the less attractive traits of her personality to get to the root of this mystery. Beautifully translated by David Hackston,  The Exiled is another winner from Kati Hiekkappelto and I, for one, cannot wait to see what Anna gets tangled up in next. Highly recommended.

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mineIn the dead of winter, investigative reporter Janne Vuori sets out to uncover the truth about a mining company, whose illegal activities have created an environmental disaster in a small town in Northern Finland. When the company’s executives begin to die in a string of mysterious accidents, and Janne’s personal life starts to unravel, past meets present in a catastrophic series of events that could cost him his life…

I’m going to set my stall out here and say that I would probably enjoy anything that Antti Tuomainen writes, having loved both The Healer, and  Dark As My Heart so did The Mine take me down to the depths of despair, or eject me skipping into the sunlight?…

One of the manifold reasons that I love Scandinavian crime thrillers so much is the unerring ability of the authors within this genre to so finely balance the exploration of the human psyche, and important social and political issues, in total harmony with the essential need of bringing to their readers a believable and compelling criminal mystery. The Mine is a perfect example of this, exposing the less than legal activities of a mining company in the snowy wastes of rural Finland, as a jumping off point for a menacing tale of murder and retribution. The author’s research into the history and workings of this particular industry across Finland, is clearly in evidence, and Tuomainen does not hesitate in exposing the particular follies and dangers linked to it. In common with Gunnar Staalesen’s We Shall Inherit The Wind and the Danish drama Follow The Money which also addressed issues in relation to environmental issues this adds a layer of interest to the reader, outside of a linear crime narrative. I thought the plot was excellent, and was genuinely interested and engaged with Janne’s refusal to give up in his mission to expose the truth behind the mining corporation and its dastardly deeds, and delighted by the additional weight that Tuomainen’s exploration of human connection brings to the whole affair.

Dark As My Heart was one of my favourite books of last year, due to the mesmeric, lyrical quality that Tuomainen injects into his prose. Despite the weightier environmental issues of this book, that provide the driving force for the story, there are interludes of writing, that resonate strongly with the author’s gift for the rhythm and cadence of emotional expression. I finished reading the book with at least ten highlighted passages of sublime, naturalistic description whether referring to the physical landscape, or the emotional landscape of the characters. I found Tuomainen’s portrayal of the fragile reconciliation between Janne and his father, Emil,  particularly affecting, and the bridging of the gap between their differing sense of morality powerfully wrought, when the true nature and motivations of Janne’s father come to light. Although not entirely convinced by Emil’s day job, it proved an interesting juxtaposition for us to see how Janne and his mother dealt with his absence, and the tentative steps made by Emil to reconnect. Strongly in evidence in his previous books is Tuomainen’s knack for rootling around in the depths of people’s emotional selves, and depicting them so transparently that you cannot be helped as a reader to being utterly drawn into his characters. I felt like I came to know all these people intimately as the story progressed, with increasing amounts of either complete empathy or moral outrage at the situations they find themselves in. This is fiction writing at its best, highlighting the power to move, unsettle and educate the reader, and hold them completely into its thrall. Highly recommended.

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