There have been a strange succession of violent deaths at Helsinki tube stations. The police are baffled: nobody has seen anything and the tapes from CCTV show nothing.
Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit has experienced more than enough of the seamier side of human nature in his career, but the forces of evil have never crossed his path in such an overwhelming fashion. Who is the mysterious old woman handing out religious tracts in Latin or the priest who preaches to commuters? Can they be connected to the killings?
Eurocrime is really a tremendous imprint, providing some real little gems of books from a range of different cultural backgrounds. These books provide the crime reader with a glimpse into another culture. And make you realise that whilst some things are very different, more often it's the similarities that are surprising.
The things that THE PRIEST OF EVIL shows are the same in Finland, as they are where I come from, include the way that people can be invisible. Sometimes it's because of age, often it's age and gender combined. The other thing that seems to be guaranteed to make you invisible is doing something that discomforts others. Stand and preach, hand out pamphlets, be old, be old and female, look scruffy, or homeless or somehow "different" and you're pretty well guaranteed to slip under most people's radars. Except for other members of society also slightly on the outer. And that was the other message that came across very clearly in this book - be an outsider and you risk gravitating towards the edges, towards acceptance of any kind. Regardless of whether those edges are safe, and whether that acceptance is unconditional. Although it's not always a given and in many ways the hero's in our society (in this case the tenacious detective), are outsiders in their own right - who were drawn to a different edge.
THE PRIEST OF EVIL is quiet and contained, whilst Joensuu creates a very intimate relationship with his characters. As is the way with so many of the very good psychological style crime fiction books, there is a lot that isn't fully explained, resolved or even addressed. The reader is left to consider what it is that initiates the directions that people's lives take.
THE SERBIAN DANE - Leif Davidsen
LISE CARLSEN: A successful journalist trying to smooth over the cracks in a failed marriage.
PER TOFTLUND: A crack member of Denmark's secret service, a lone wolf: unattached, without family and fanatically committed to his work.
VUK: a highly skilled political assassin who has lost everything in the bloody collapse of the former Yugoslavia. Raised in Denmark of Serbian descent.
I can't remember the last thriller styled book from a Scandinavian author that I've read - but I certainly hope I'll find another one soon. THE SERBIAN DANE lingered too long on the unread piles around here - but once started it was fascinating. A Serbian hitman, Vuk, born in Denmark but very much formed by the collapse of the former Yugoslavia, is hired to kill an Iranian author. Sara Santanda has decided to come out of hiding, and her first appearance is scheduled for Copenhagen.
Santanda's contact in Denmark, Lise Carlesen works for the newspaper Politiken. Despite the Danish government's reservations about their relationship with Iran, they agree to provide security protection, and the man in charge is Per Toftlund. Lise's marriage is already on the skids, and Per is a very attractive man. In an interesting twist her increasing absence allows a mysterious stranger to befriend her husband, a combination of all the relationships and events combining to form the catalyst for a quite dramatic conclusion.
Given that this book is a thriller in style, there is quite a lot of action. Alongside that though there are some great character explorations - particularly that of Vuk, the hitman with so many identities that he seems to have lost who he really is. It's strange, but there's something quite vulnerable and complicated about Vuk - as cold-blooded and as ruthless a killer as he is. It seems that you get a real glimpse into the damage that war can do. At the same time Per and Lise's relationship is an interesting development. What is most interesting, however, is that this is a book that was originally published in 1996, yet the issues discussed, the action portrayed and the tension engendered really felt quite contemporary and believable.
This is a really good thriller with a full range of the required elements (tension / pace / threat and a sense of menace), alongside some suprisingly good characterisations and just a touch of human insight.