Detective Jessica Niemi is called to investigate a murder case which is completely out of the ordinary. The wife of a famous writer, Roger Koponen, appears to have been killed in a bizarre ritual. As more ritual murders occur in the coming days, it becomes obvious that Jessica is after a serial killer. But the murders are not random – they follow a pattern taken from Roger’s bestselling trilogy. Has a devoted fan lost their mind, or is this case more personal?
Welcome to the first stop on the blog tour for The Witch Hunter by Max Seeck, an intensely malevolent tale set in Finland, that effectively merges the criminal and the supernatural into a delightfully creepy thriller…
With Seeck’s background in screenwriting it is little wonder that he has produced one of the most visual thrillers that I have read for some time. From the opening scene with a woman pacing the housing equivalent of a goldfish bowl with the dark night surrounding her, you know from the outset that something evil is set to do some serious mischief, and this motif of darkness and the supernatural carries through the book with a creeping sense of unease on the part of the reader. As the book also carries the theme of life mirroring art, as the crimes perpetrated seem to be replicating the fictional crimes of a renowned crime author’s work, the murders are particularly gruesome, and have their base in historical methods of punishments. With Seeck’s finesse in depicting these murders in technicolour detail with the pace and visuality of cinema, I felt for most of the book that I was immersed in a cracking good horror film, and was flinching on more than one occasion. I really enjoyed the to and fro of the detectives trying to link the crimes with their fictional counterparts, identifying potential victims, and the little diversions throughout of the interactions between the suspects. There are a whole host of bizarre ritualistic killings linked to the folkloric methods of despatching witches which are both fascinating and terrifying. A clever and slick premise that works superbly throughout, with more than one murderous surprise in store along the way…
The central police protagonist detective Jessica Niemi charts an interesting course during the book, being both investigator and suspect at various points in the story. She is cleverly used as a filter for the more malevolent aspects of the murders, and under increasing pressure to disassociate herself from the otherworldly forces at work, that increasingly use her as a conduit. At times she seems to channel both open eyed belief and then a scorching cynicism as these strange events unfold. leading to some deep self-questioning on her behalf. I really liked her professional relationship with her superior officer Chief Inspector Erne Mickson, himself a stand-out character with an interesting part to play in the book. There is an almost paternal concern that he shows for her, tempered by his respect for her as a superb, if slightly renegade, investigator, and their working relationship goes through a good amount of doubt and recrimination.
Slightly disconcertingly there is a parallel storyline in the book, which alternates in and out of the main investigation, recounting an ill-fated sojourn by Jessica in Venice some time previously. This sees her get involved with a troubled and increasingly coercive man, and although for fear of spoilers I cannot reveal how this plays out, Venice proves to be a time of intense emotional experience for Jessica. Admittedly, this particular arc of the story does go some way to defining Jessica, giving us an insight to how she has evolved into the woman and detective she is, but I did find it a bit distracting, and found myself at times, itching to get back to the main plot of murder and mayhem.
Overall I enjoyed The Witch Hunter, particularly the most supernatural and ritualistic elements of the book and the blending of fiction with reality as the killer’s motivation for some particularly grisly and heinous murders. The core investigation of the book and those that undertake unfolds at a steady and satisfying pace with all the panache and recognisable elements of the Nordic noir genre. I will be interested to see where Seeck takes Jessica Niemi next, in what is a solid start for a potential series too. Recommended.
(With thanks to Welbeck Publishing for the ARC)
Missed a review? Catch up at these excellent sites: