SJI Holliday has been reading crime fiction since she was able to hold a book. She writes short stories and her debut novel, Black Wood was published in spring 2015. You can find out more at www.sjiholliday.com.
Anna Fekete, who fled the Yugoslavian wars as a child, has just started working as a criminal investigator in a northern Finnish coastal town, when she is thrust into a rolling murder investigation. It doesn’t help that her middle-aged new partner, Esko, doesn’t bother hiding his racist prejudices. Anna’s work as a criminal investigator barely gets off the ground before she is thrust into a high-profile, seemingly unsolvable case that has riveted the nation. A young woman has been killed on a running trail, and a pendant depicting an Aztec god has been found in her possession. Another murder soon follows. All signs point to a serial killer, but can Anna catch the Hummingbird before he or she strikes again?
“That night the Sandman arrived like a Gestapo henchman.” The opening line of Hiekkapelto’s debut novel sets the tone for what is to become an intriguing, complex thriller with strong characterisation at it’s heart.
Anna Fekete is a Hungarian immigrant, who despite having lived in Finland since childhood, is still treated as an outsider when she returns to her adopted home city as a detective. Much mystery surrounds her past, and the author keeps the intrigue going by drip-feeding snippets throughout. Anna is clearly damaged in some way. She is alone, she is independent. But she is feisty, and refuses to let her new partner Esko’s hostile treatment of her jeopardise her new job. But she is vulnerable and lacks confidence, and soon she is smoking and drinking more, exercising less, and the demands placed on her by the job soon start to take their toll. There are unsuitable men, and a dependent addict brother added into the mix, and it starts to look like Anna might crack under the pressure.
The main investigation focuses on a series of brutal murders at a running track. The team seem to be going around in circles, with no clear leads – and the process is not helped by Esko keeping Anna out of the loop, and Anna’s slightly weak boss, Virkkunen, refusing to get involved – and when he does, Anna chooses not to tell him the truth. In the meantime, she keeps tabs on another case in her spare time – and it is this thread, which weaves it’s way subtly though the storyline, that provides the most satisfying resolution.
For me, this book was about Anna and her relationships with her colleagues, her family and her old friends. The detective aspect was almost secondary. Not to say it wasn’t well thought out and sufficiently intriguing, as it definitely was. I found this to be an atmospheric novel that covered many fascinating issues that I knew little about, and I really enjoyed the voice of Anna – an intriguing character who I hope to read a lot more about in the future. As for Esko, I hated him immediately – which I think was the intention, but of course, things are never quite as cut and dried as you think. I suspect that Anna and Esko’s relationship is one that may be developed further in future books in the series – there is definitely more to him than meets the eye.
Hiekkapelto’s debut has already done incredibly well in her native Finland, and with this translation from David Hackston, I think she’s definitely a name to watch on the Nordic Noir scene.
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