Show Angels is set in Finland, that Scandinavian country far to the North, bordering on Russia. It is the country of the thousand lakes and deep forests, with beautiful summers and brutally cold winters. It is written by an American author, James Thompson, who has lived in Finland and clearly knows both the country, some of its very hard to understand language, and Finnish culture (see more about Finnish crime fiction). Finland is truly fascinating – for a large number of reasons, perhaps mostly because it is so different – and there are not nearly enough Finnish crime fiction books available in English. Thompson’s book is a very welcome addition.
Snow Angels is set in Northern Finland, in Lapland, and takes place during the winter in snow, ice, temperatures down to minus 40 degrees and days without real light – just the bleak, strange semi-darkness of the Polar mid-winter. It is on a day like this that police detective Kari Vaara receives a phone call telling him that Sufia Elmi, a Somali refugee and a semi-celebrity, an extraordinary beautiful African woman, has been brutally murdered and has been found lying naked and mutilated in the snow with a broken beer bottle in her vagina, not far from the place where Kari grew up. It is a murder with both sexual and racial overtones.
This is the start of a new, very difficult homicide case for Inspector Kari Vaara, and for the readers the beginning of an extremely interesting guided tour, with Thompson as our knowledgeable guide, into the fascinating culture of rural Finland. In many ways the guided tour is as intriguing and as shocking as the homicide case.
The murder case is complicated. There is a lot of technical evidence – car tracks, foot prints, DNA and so forth. The car turns out to be the easiest piece of the puzzle – it’s a fat BMW with a set of Dunlop ties. And when Kari finds the owner, and also finds out that the owner paid for the place where the deceased lived and kept her as his mistress, the case seems to be solved. But then other facts emerge, and all of a sudden Kari Vaara has two suspects and several theories but nothing conclusive.
Then more people die: the son of one of Kari’s assistants commits suicide and leaves behind some strange notes on his computer; the wife of the prime suspect is burned to death on a frozen lake; and now even more theories seem to fit the facts. When Kari Vaara finally connects the dots, it doesn’t at all happen as he had anticipated.
However, the descriptions and glimpses into life in rural Finland are as shocking and as fascinating as the murder case. We meet racism, depression, alcoholism and suicides – all of which are common in those parts. We meet silent people who drink instead of communicating, and tense, volatile and downbeat communities.
Snow Angels is an excellent and very noir crime fiction – well plotted, well written in a style that perfectly suits the mood and tempo of the story, with well drawn characters, is very suspenseful, and a real, utterly fascinating, treat. It feels very, very authentic, and its understated descriptions of the country, the climate, and the people provide a rich, very evocative setting. I loved reading the book and it made a deep impression on me. An outstanding crime fiction book – I am already waiting for the next in this series!