Even though he probably drinks more than he talks, Finnish police inspector Kari Vaara has a number of traits that make him sort of likable. Perhaps because he is concerned with justice and fairness, albeit in a twisted sort of a way? Perhaps because he thinks of himself as incorruptible and honest, even though he has been known to steal? Or perhaps because he is so full of contradictions – so strong, so frail, so weak, so hard and so loving – because he is so human? I don’t quite know.
However, having followed James Thompson’s great series about this so typically Finnish policeman from its beginning in Snow Angels, it is clear that Thompson is very hard on his hero. In most ways, and surely in the ways that count the most, Kari Vaara’s life has been a continuous downward spiral in this series. He actually started out quite well, living up there in Northern Finland – Lappland – in Snow Angels. He was happy with his wife then. And healthy. Then he moved to Helsinki, and in Lucifer’s Tears things got worse. He got involved with bosses trying to use him, and hardened gangsters, started drinking even more, and his health started to seriously decline. Then, in Helsinki White, things got seriously bad, and when we left him he was essentially a wreck with a relationship that pretty much seemed to be a goner. And as we meet him now, Vaara is stinking rich, but his life is completely miserable. The esteemed Inspector Vaara has had considerable professional success but paid a very high price.
Having been through a brain operation, Vaara is without emotions. He has been shot in his jaw and knee and has a hard time eating and walking. He is constantly in pain. He basically feeds and self-medicates on various combinations of vodka and pain killers. Kate is as out of it as he is, and now she complicates things by returning to the US. Even worse is that Vaara’s enemies seems to try to take advantage of his temporary weakness: He is being harassed and hurt, and friends are threatened and even killed. Vaara knows he is in a vulnerable position and that he and his friends are stretched dangerously thin, but to have a chance of saving himself and the people he loves and likes, he must mobilize what few resources he has, and push back as hard as he can. It is a risky game and the stakes are about as high as they can possibly get.
Helsinki Blood is a fascinating book. It is very well-written, with an intense and rich plot and lots of twist and turns, but first and foremost with a living breathing Inspector Vaara, spellbinding with his Weltsmertz and suffering. He is so human it hurts; even when he does the right thing – which is fairly rare – he often does it for the wrongest of reasons. And when he thinks he is helping the weak and saving humanity, he is really mostly engaged in helping himself and his friends. And the convoluted contradictions, delusions, savagery and general mess that is the story in Helsinki Blood is exactly why you ought to read this book.
Praise for Helsinki Blood:
“Inspector Kari Vaara’s latest nightmare barrels along at a breakneck pace as he faces enemies on his doorstep as well as his own demons within. James Thompson’s spare, no-frills action is straight to the point. Helsinki Blood as raw as it gets, it doesn’t pause for breath and it and takes no prisoners.”
Quentin Bates, author of Frozen Assets and Cold Comfort