The Finnish Invasion- Kati Hiekkapelto- The Exiled, Antti Tuomainen- The Mine

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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In 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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Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Black Night FallingHaving left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it’s less of a story Charlie’s chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it’s too late…

The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, was based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds took us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion. Black Night Falling picks up the story just a few months on from the harrowing events of the first book featuring stoic reporter Charlie Yates, and there is more darkness in store…

Once again, Reynolds completely immerses us in the world of 1940’s America, incorporating insights into the American psyche, and referencing returning servicemen from World War II. Reynolds’ attention to the detail of the period is again completely on song, and the intense heat of his chosen location of Texas shimmers and scorches alongside the emotional intensity of Yates’ troublesome investigation. Particularly effective is Reynolds’ depiction of this small community of Hot Springs, with its local commerce being driven by corrupt local figures, and the mostly illegal activities of gambling and prostitution, allowing him to insinuate real life gangster figures into the plot, that are immediately recognisable to the reader. Also by placing Yates in this inward looking and suspicious community, it allows us to acknowledge for ourselves, the frustration and danger that he encounters in his search for the truth behind his friend’s untimely end.

Charlie Yates, our dogged reporter is once again bestowed with a real core of morality, and again Reynolds makes full use of his  character pivoting between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability. As in The Dark Inside, Yates must use all his guile and powers of investigation to navigate his way between local law enforcement, the press, and the mayoral head honcho, assimilating, disregarding, or challenging their versions of events at no mean danger to himself. As much as Yates is fed false leads or incomplete information, we as readers are also constantly questioning the veracity of the information he receives, and playing the who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy, game as the plot progresses. With Yates being so firmly front and centre of the plot, Reynolds’ cast of supporting characters are something of a conduit or mirror for his actions, but there is a good array of ne’er-do-wells, tarts with hearts, unlikely good guys, and a thoroughly pernicious killer at the heart of the story to keep you hooked. Admittedly, I am still a little unconvinced by the depiction of Yates’ personal life, and the slightly clichéd drawing on this in the plot to manipulate Yates’ actions, however, when book focuses purposefully on Yates’ dogged determination to track a killer and expose corruption, Reynolds keeps a realistic and tight rein of the unfolding plot. With The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling being so closely interlinked, Reynolds does endeavour to reference the first book in the second as Yates’ investigation has the overarching echo and ramifications of previous events, but I would urge you to read both books in quick succession, to fully appreciate the symbiosis of the two books, as sometimes the links between the two lose a little of their power in the reliance on sporadic back story.

When I reviewed The Dark Inside I said I was delighted to hear that there was a sequel in the offing, and more than happy to say that Reynolds has come up trumps again. Read both- you won’t be disappointed.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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Annemarie Neary- Siren

b2c884_18036d56c0324f78b3cd43bcd5d3f4b8Róisín Burns has spent the past twenty years becoming someone else; her life in New York is built on lies. A figure from her Belfast childhood flashes up on the news: Brian Lonergan has also reinvented himself. He is now a rising politician in a sharp suit. But scandal is brewing in Ireland and Róisín knows the truth. Armed with the evidence that could ruin Lonergan, she travels back across the Atlantic to the remote Lamb Island to hunt him down. But Lonergan is one step ahead; when Róisín arrives on the island, someone else is waiting for her…

With jacket quotes from the brilliant  Stuart Neville and  Liz Nugent and the promise of being a stand out addition to the Irish crime genre, the lure of Siren was irresistible to this reviewer…

I was astounded by the incredible balance of narrative, location and characterisation throughout this impressive debut novel from Neary, with all aspects of the book working in complete harmony with one another. No mean feat for a new writer, and showing a degree of skill that some writers take more than a few books to achieve. Set against the reverberating echo of The Troubles, one of the most contentious and defining conflicts of the twentieth century, Neary has constructed a tale that effortlessly intertwines a present and past timeline that slowly uncoils revealing small nuggets of bitter truths, as the reader progresses through Róisín’s compelling and thought provoking story.

As Róisín embarks on her personal mission of retribution, the violent and emotive details of her involvement in a honey trap in her teenage years, resulting in the murder of two soldiers slowly unfolds. Neary demonstrates through her portrayal of Róisín’s adolescent years the prescient dangers and threats of danger that overshadowed the lives of many in Belfast in this tumultuous period, and the skeletons in the closet of Róisín’s family itself. Likewise, the simmering rage and desire for revenge that Róisín harbours for Lonergan himself is never far from the surface, and which reveals itself in a series of flashbacks to his manipulation of her in previous events. Róisín is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and contains a mass of contradictions, as she gravitates between clear-sighted belief in her actions, underscored by moments of incredible sensitivity and self doubt. If ever a character was written to elicit empathy in the reader, Neary has this pretty much spot on, as Róisín is never less than a totally believable and sympathetic character. To further draw on the characterisation of this book, I loved the way that was a certain shadowy pall around the male protagonists, as Neary never really gives the reader a complete picture of their motivations, choosing to keep them to a larger degree, slightly shrouded from our unflinching gaze. If this was a deliberate move on the author’s part it was a wise one as this incompleteness to their definition added a further level of menace to them and their interactions with Róisín herself. Also choosing to set the contemporary story on the grim outcrop of Lamb Island, instead of keeping the action centred in Belfast itself, worked very well. The air of impending violence and fear that Róisín experiences is heightened substantially by the bleakness of the surrounding island landscape, and the isolation of her temporary abode on the island from where she embarks on her vengeful mission.

I was incredibly impressed with this debut, with its pitch perfect mix of extreme human emotions, combined with the resonance of history. Neary has achieved something really quite special. Highly recommended.

(With thanks to PenguinRandomHouse for the ARC)