James Thompson’s first book, Snow Angels, was delightful, tough in its style, and felt very authentic. It featured Finnish detective Kari Vaara, and was set in Northern Finland, in a rural area, in the extreme cold of the winter up there in the Far North.
Lucifer’s Tears is the sequel to Thompson’s excellent debut. Since we last saw him, the sympathetic and thoughtful forty-one year old Inspector Kari Vaara has moved to Helsinki with his pregnant wife Kate. Even though the winter in Helsinki is not nearly as cold as it is further up in the northern part of the country, Lucifer’s Tears is every bit as chilly, harsh and unrelenting as the first book.
Kari Vaara now suffers from post-traumatic stress following the events described in Snow Angels. He is more or less constantly tormented by excruciating migraines. And he is worried about Kate’s pregnancy. Even so, he is assigned a new murder case – the brutal murder, perhaps better described as slaughter, of a somewhat promiscuous woman in the bed of her lover. The nude young woman has been bound, tortured with cigarette burns, whipped viciously with a riding crop, and ultimately asphyxiated. It is a case that his superior and mentor in the police force wants to have solved very quickly. And, as it turns out, in a very certain way. Actually in a way that Kari Vaara increasingly feels will mean that an innocent man will be convicted and the murderer will get away.
Then, while investigating the complicated murder case, Kari is assigned another case “on the side” – that is also supposedly an open and shut case, where again his response is strongly suggested to him. This second case involves the possible complicity of Finnish nationals in atrocities committed against Communists and Jews during World War II. By extension, it also involves his beloved grandfather Ukki, who was a high-ranking member of the nationalist secret police during World War II. And, again, it involves very high ranking people in Finland who want him to cover up their misdeeds.
However, Kari Vaara is not the kind of man who can be pushed around. Many Finns are stubborn, but very few Finns are as stubborn and fiercely independent as Inspector Kari Vaara. So the more the high-ranking people above him press the “do the easy thing”button, the more Kari digs in the opposite direction.
Kari finds, in both cases, that under the tidy surface there is dirt, greed, intrigue, and betrayal. Men in high positions pushing other men in high positions – mutual protection, corruption, as well glorification and beatification of Finland’s history. The facts he digs up are not only unsettling and shocking: If they become widely known they will shake the very foundations of Finnish society and affect the images of its iconic figureheads, and heads will roll!
Lucifer’s Tears is even better than James Thomson’s excellent Snow Angels. It is written is a prose that is as tailor-made for a Finnish crime fiction novel; with conversations in short, concise sentence; and as much if not more unsaid than said. The descriptions of Helsinki, the Finns, and the Finnish style of life and so on are wonderful and evocative. It feels very right to say that the prose is masterful. And – last but by no way least – the plot is rich, twisting and very engaging. Even though James Thompson is American and not from Scandinavia, this is Scandinavian crime fiction at it’s excellent best – as good as you’ll find it in the books of Stieg Larsson, Jo Nesbo and Henning Mankell, but written in a unique, very Finnish and very engaging fashion. It’s a book that will have you enjoy the mystery and be fascinated by how different the setting is from what you are familiar with.
A stunning tale!