Published by Bitter Lemon Press,specialists in crime fiction -especially translated works- this is a post World War 2, European thriller.
Here is the blurb-
Lapland, Finland, 1952. It’s the height of the Cold War and Finland is a snow-smothered powder keg. Sharing a long border with the Soviet Union the country is engaged in a high-wire act of protecting its independence from its sometimes dangerous neighbour.
Hella Mauzer is the first female Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. Or was, until she was deemed too ‘emotional’ for the job and reassigned to Lapland. When a man disappears from a remote village on the Soviet border, Hella jumps at the chance to investigate. Her boss is sceptical; after all, people disappear in the snows of Finland all the time. Then a body is found. But the small village of Käärmela is harbouring a second crime. A crime whose evil is of another magnitude.
Sounds good, right?
I know next to nothing about the Finnish/Russian divide and even less about the Cold War so this was absolutely fascinating.
Reading Hella’s story, and her battle to be taken seriously at this point in time, really made me think about how far we have come in terms of equality-not perfect (yet) but a superior officer using the fact that Hella is a woman to demote her, due to ‘being overly emotional’, made me gasp.
She has to convince her superior that the letter they received about a missing man should be taken seriously, by referencing their 100% crime solving rate. In return, she gets told she can investigate it-on the condition that she uses her holiday leave and if there is anything to the disappearance, then she can use the hours as work time. Unbelievable! The kind of remarks and comments that Hella is subjected to reflect the time period but still! I was wincing constantly at the comments on her appearance and what the men in her department thought was important to a woman, but Hella is more than capable of using that to her advantage.
The time period and the geographical setting add to the methods of detection that Hella has to use.She is repeatedly warned before setting out for Käärmela that she could be stranded, no one will come and rescue her, and that they have to communicate by post! The stubbornness and determination that Hella has are winning combinations;she has a firm sense of justice and will not take no for an answer.This is not your average police procedural.Take what Hella’s Chief Inspector says to her request to investigate Erno’s disappearance,for example-
”Why are you pushing this,my dear?You’re a woman.You can’t go out there alone, can you? And both Inspector Ranta are are very busy right now.Take my advice, forget about it.I’m not talking to you as your superior, but as an older, wiser friend.There’s that ball next week everyone is talking about. Put on a dress if you have one and go.”
Hella is constantly torn between acting spontaneously then thinking maybe she should do what a woman is expected to do, but in the end her sense of fair play wins out against societal norms, which is why she was seen as problematic (emotional!)and sent to the middle of nowhere.
This is a properly wintery tale in a suitable icy setting with more twists and turns than you can shake a snow laden stick at!
I LOVE Nordic Noir and completely adore bad ass feminist detectives-put them both together and you have the start of a beautiful new series that I cannot wait to read more of!
THE AUTHOR: Katja Ivar grew up in Russia and the U.S. She travelled the world extensively, from Almaty to Ushuaia, from Karelia to Kyushu, before finally settling in Paris where she lives with her husband and three children. She received a B.A. in Linguistics and a master’s degree in Contemporary History from Sorbonne University. Evil Things is her debut novel.