Review - THE BODYGUARD, Leena Lehtolainen
Leena Lehtolainen is a Finnish author, best known for her series featuring Policewoman Maria Kallio. THE BODYGUARD is the first in a new trilogy, featuring bodyguard Hilja Ilveskero. According to her website:
"The underlying theme of the trilogy is a series of questions about identity and concealment. Who is each person really? What disguise is each person using? What does it mean to be family? What language does each person speak and understand, and what is each person’s secret language? Finnish is a good secret language—few people understand it — and Finland as a country is a safe haven for many an international criminal. Who is on whose side? Who can be trusted? What is each person’s price? Who is each person willing either to betray or to save?"
Which is something this reader should possibly have read before undertaking this book as there were so many aspects that just didn't make sense.
Starting out in Russia where Ilveskero (she from the blurb who rarely loses her cool), loses her cool immediately when her client, a wealth Finnish woman, insists on buying a Lynx fur coat and Ilveskero quits on the spot. Her objections to this particular fur coat are eventually explained, but immediately the reader is presented with a weird discordance - for somebody who rarely loses her cool - she's let it rip early on. Who's wrong here - the blurb or the character. Unfortunately a sneaking suspicion of understanding creeps in about the time that the wealthy client is shot dead in Moscow, and Ilveskero is questioned by the police. In what starts out as a "clearing her name" storyline, things rapidly progress to another client, a very odd ongoing discussion with herself in the disguise of a male character, a lot of backstory of childhood, and time in bodyguard / security school in the US, and a lurking threatening male who, of course, our heroine promptly falls for, and into the bed of.
The danger of using first person like this is that the reader has to have a connection with the central character. Even if they are selectively viewed, unreliable, odd, self-obsessed, or whatever other failings there are in the protaganist, the reader must want to spend time in that head / those thoughts. For this reader that was a very difficult proposition in THE BODYGUARD. Ilveskero isn't necessarily unreliable, and whilst she's definitely a bit odd, the offputting bit was definitely obsession, slow reveals and repetition. Reading the explanation from the website now makes some sense of some of Ilveskero's obsessions - but just reading the book - they seem like simply character traits, behaviours, with no particular reason. Obviously the use of the slow reveal to explain the Lynx obsession, the difficult childhood, is meant to raise tension - but when it's in the main character's own head - it's just came across to this reader as odd, selective memories. And the constant repetition of elements of the past, of the security school, what her tutor says / thinks, and the location of the cabin, and the bike, and and and - made it feel like you were spending way too much time in the head of somebody with an OCD problem.
None of this was helped by some really odd motivations at points - if you believe the ex-partner responsible for ordering the killing of your boss has sent an underling in pursuit of you - is it even vaguely possible that your first choice would be to fall madly in lust? Even while telling yourself that you can't trust this bloke. Okay so some women might be daft enough but should a trained bodyguard be that stupid? Careless? Whilst attaching trackers to clients and supposedly hiding your location from the same man?
The repetition, the odd motivations, the oversharing of the central character in THE BODYGUARD bogged the reading down to the point where the book felt like it was about 1/3rd longer than it needed to be and the ending seemed constantly in the distance. Even when much of the action had been wrapped up - the final twist was so corny alas it was the straw that broke this camel's back.
As a professional bodyguard, Hilja Ilveskero rarely loses her cool. But one day, she and a client have an argument in a Moscow fur salon, and Hilja quits on the spot. When the client turns up dead, Hilja quickly discovers that she is a suspect. In an attempt to clear her name and find the killer, she uncovers ever-deeper layers of subterfuge. Amid all the covert treachery and intrigue, Hilja finds herself falling in love with a suspicious yet irresistibly sexy man—but is her heart clouding her judgment? In this tale of political romance populated by Russian oligarchs, Finnish politicians, and undercover cops, no one is what they seem and no one can be trusted. A fast-paced, tightly woven tale of love, murder, betrayal, and high-stakes deal-making, The Bodyguard—the first in a gripping trilogy by internationally acclaimed Nordic crime author Leena Lehtolainen—exposes the delicacy and dark underbelly of international relations on both a human and global scale.