Winner of the best Finnish Crime Novel of 2014, Kati Hiekkapelto’s The Defenceless is faultless.
A stunning opening, tightly plotted procedurals, intelligent writing, sharp social commentary, complex characters and a surprise ending, what more could you want?
These are main character you’ll instantly feel you know and yet, as their flaws and motivations are revealed, you’ll see how well-crafted, or human, they really are; products of their past, of the system in which they live, and yet redemption is dangled before them.
It’s cold and dark in northern Finland. Tough Senior Constable Anna Fekete of the Violent Crimes Unit is called upon to question a Hungarian au pair who has driven over a man lying in the road. Anna, herself a migrant with part Hungarian origin, is faced with what seems a road traffic accident, but why was the old man on the road, how did he get there, and could he have already been dead?
Meanwhile two girls, smoking in the woods, find a bloody knife in the snow and ice close to where the ‘accident’ occurred.
Anna’s background has her as an outsider, albeit an empathetic one. Escaping a dangerous past she lives in a Finland that allows her to exist as a loner and yet relate to the difficulties faced by those wanting to live there. This adds to the sense of place and shows what modern city living can be like.
Anna’s partner Esko is investigating the Black Cobras, a violent and deadly gang looking to expand their territory into Finland. Drug or turf wars bring new conflict with immigrants and shows up Esko’s own views. He’s much less sympathetic to the immigrants than Anna but she can’t help but like him despite his personality which veers from cantankerous to downright racist. Esko, who works for the National Bureau of Investigation, like other characters in the book is an example of how sometimes decent people do bad things or possess attitudes we find repellent.
Sammy is a young Pakistani refugee applying for asylum in Finland. Forced into measures to avoid deportation he becomes involved in drugs and ends up with bad company in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Struggles with drugs and alcoholic are never far from the surface in The Defenceless and cases entwine as the tension rises in this excellent novel which follows on from Hiekkapelto’s The Hummingbird but works as a standalone.
The various foreign names and places can be hard to track but other than that it’s Nordic Noir that will appeal to UK readers with the translated David Hackston deserving credit.
About Kati Hiekkapelto:
Kati Hiekkapelto is a bestselling, award-winning author, punk singer, performance artist and, formerly, special-needs teacher. She lives on an old farm on the island of Hailuoto in Northern Finland (which has been in her family for hundreds of years) with her children and sizable menagerie. Here she is currently setting up an asylum for artists in danger. Hiekkapelto has taught immigrants and lived in the Hungarian region of Serbia, which inspired her to write her highly regarded debut crime novel, The Hummingbird.
When an old man is found dead on the road—seemingly run over by a Hungarian au pair—police investigator Anna Fekete is certain that there is more to the incident than meets the eye. As she begins to unravel an increasingly complex case, she’s led on a deadly trail where illegal immigration, drugs, and, ultimately, murder threaten not only her beliefs, but her life. Anna’s partner Esko is entrenched in a separate but equally dangerous investigation into the activities of an immigrant gang, where deportation orders and raids cause increasing tension and result in desperate measures by gang members—and the police themselves. Then a bloody knife is found in the snow, and the two cases come together in ways that no one could have predicted. As pressure mounts, it becomes clear that having the law on their side may not be enough for Anna and Esko.