Evil Things

Written by Katja Ivar

Review written by Adrian Magson

Adrian Magson is the author of 23 spy and crime thrillers. His last book was ‘Smart Moves’ – a standalone – and his next is ‘Rocco and the Price of Lies’ (April 2019), the 6th in the Insp Lucas Rocco series set in rural France of the 1960s. More information: https://www.adrianmagson.com/


Evil Things
Bitter lemon Press
RRP: £8.99
Released: January 11 2019
PBK

Taking a lead character out of their usual comfort zone and seeing how they run is a useful plot device, and Katja Ivar uses this to great effect in her debut novel – ‘Evil Things’.

It’s 1952, in Finland and the height of the Cold War. Hella Mauzer is the first female Homicide Inspector in the Helsinki Police Department. But in such a totally male-dominated environment she is soon found wanting (or ‘emotional’ as she is described), and posted somewhere far away so she can’t do any harm.

And far away means a small village in Lapland inhabited by the Sami people, who exist largely on fishing and hunting.

Her new boss, Chief Inspector Eklund, is a lazy policeman who wants to avoid problems like solving crimes. But when he mentions the disappearance of a recluse from a remote village close by the Russian border, dismissing it as a case of the man wandering off into the forest and getting lost , Mauzer sets off to investigate. There is one thing about her that none of the men in the force have taken seriously: she is stubborn, highly focussed and conscious of her duties as a police officer. If someone has disappeared, she has to find out why. This comes across to others as less than tactful, even rude, but she doesn’t care.

Lapland is not Helsinki, as the author makes clear in shivering, toe-curling detail. It’s cold, remote, snows a lot and wandering around without due care can get you lost, stranded… or worse, straying into dangerous territory across the Russian border.

Not that Mauzer is concerned; she’s there to do a job. And she’s soon in it up to her elbows. The old man has indeed disappeared – although few of his fellow villagers seem unduly concerned – leaving behind a small, traumatised grandson who is in the care of the local priest and his wife. Deciding to investigate an area of the forest where he might have ventured, she stumbles on a body. But it’s not the old man. It’s a woman - a Russian army doctor.

This turns out to be a trigger for things to get very much more complicated for Mauzer. Her bosses don’t want to know about cross-border excursions, as they are too politically charged. In fact, they don’t want anything to disturb the highly fragile relationship that exists with their huge neighbour. Mauzer finds this infuriating, just as she resents the largely closed community she is now in, where too many secrets are prevalent and nobody want to talk to her – least of the all priest, whom she discovers has a dark past.

But Mauzer is nothing if not dogged in her pursuit of the truth, and the discovery of the dead Russian doctor reveals something far worse than a disappeared villager; something that will have echoes around the world if it gets out. There is an unexplained sickness in the village, and with no reliable doctor for many miles, no easy way of finding out what has caused it. The only problem is, who to report it to? She can’t trust her bosses not to sit on it or brush it – and her - off as the imaginings of a hysterical woman, and doesn’t fully trust SUPO the security agency. But her conscience says the truth has to come out, and she therefore decides to blow the results of her investigation wide open.

This is very much a character-led story of someone operating out of her comfort zone, yet unable to give in to the pressures facing her, simply because she knows no different. It’s also a vivid tale set against a stark and hostile landscape where mistakes can cost you your life and nobody will come to find you; where snow will cover you over until the next thaw (or you get eaten by wild animals); where phones are so few and far between it’s quicker to have truck-drivers carry written messages; and where everybody is waiting for the outsider to trip over her felt-booted feet.

For a debut this is amazing. It’s a book of layers, of closed faces, of secrets and resentments, old and new, where international pressures suddenly come weighing down on a snow-bound community that is ill-prepared to understand or even recognise politically-inspired machinations.

A very good read in what is the first in a planned series. Welcome, Katja Ivar (and Hella Mauzer)!

Editor’s Note : Read Russell James’ review HERE



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