Wagner, Jan Costin - 'Ice Moon' (translated by John Brownjohn)
The main strength of this excellent book is the character study of Kimmo Joentaa, a young police detective trying to come to terms with the death of his even younger wife from Hodgkin's lymphoma. Returning to work after this sad event, Kimmo is confronted with the case of a woman who has been suffocated in her sleep. As he and his colleagues investigate the crime, he sees parallels with the dead woman's life and that of his own wife.
There isn't much of a mystery to the book. The murderer is revealed to the reader fairly early on, and although the author can't entirely rise above the "mind of the murderer" genre cliche, this aspect is handled better than many other books purporting to provide motivation and insights into the criminal mind.
Two more murders follow, and Kimmo, in his vulnerable and inconsolable state, becomes more and more in tune with the victims' lives and families. His investigation is a mix of the police procedural and of acting on instinct: at one point he impulsively goes to visit a witness in Sweden rather than turning up to work, mainly because he believes he can talk to this woman about his wife's death. Later on, Kimmo makes a German witness fly to Finland to be with him in his house, an experience that provides both men with some insights about themselves and their respective futures.
The story of Kimmo's thoughts and memories of his wife, and of his attempts to connect with family and friends, form the backbone of this haunting book. In a kind of merging of mourning, Kimmo's identity with the three cases eventually enables him to understand who the murderer is in a flash of insight: the question then is finding him and bringing him to justice.
Kimmo's boss, Ketola, is a great character. Kimmo and he have never spoken about personal issues before the book opens, and Kimmo has no idea what his boss thinks of him, if anything, on a professional level. During the course of the story Ketola loses it in various unpredictable and even comic ways, by the end of the book becoming a defined character in his own right. I very much hope we'll read more in future, both about Kimmo Joentaa and his irascible yet surprisingly sympathetic boss.
Read another review of ICE MOON.
Maxine Clarke, England