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Thompson, James - 'Snow Angels'
Paperback: 336 pages (Nov. 2010) Publisher: Avon ISBN: 1847562272

In a small town in the Lapland part of Finland, near the Arctic Circle in late December, when the night is 24 hours long and temperatures are minus 40 degrees, it is the bitterest cold imaginable and people are drinking very strong vodka just to anaesthetize themselves from it.

Inspector Kari Vaara, the chief detective of the small town police force is called to the scene of a murder. The tragic victim is a beautiful, black Somali woman, who has been discovered in a bank of snow. Her battered and bleeding body, gruesomely mutilated in ways too grim to repeat here, and with a racial epithet hacked into her naked chest. This barbaric crime could be a simple murder, a race or sex crime or all three. Finland is almost 100% white in ethnicity and as a result there is a lot of xenophobia towards the limited amount of other ethnic groups and Kari is deeply concerned about keeping the crime out of the media.

There is a lot of pressure on Kari to find the killer quickly, which is very difficult considering the large physical size of the town and the sparsity of population and his very limited staff and other resources. Kari is married to a young American woman who has great difficulty in mixing with the very insular Finn population and understanding the difficult language but she is very supportive of her husband in such a trying case. Kari had been married before and his former wife, a Finn, left him and set up home with a very rich man. The latter has always been a ladies' man and has been unfaithful to Kari's ex-wife before and Kari suspects him of killing the Somali woman after a failed relationship.

SNOW ANGELS is an astonishing good first rate police procedural thriller. Extremely violent and so may not be for those that are particularly squeamish, but the author has the gift that the best writers have, which is to completely transport you to the world of his imagination all within a few pages. Finnish is a very hard language to learn and the names of characters in the story seem very strange to my eyes, but because of the writer's huge skill, this does not stop me enjoying this mesmerising story.

This is an amazingly good, intelligently told, first novel by an exciting new American author who has lived for the past decade in Helsinki with his wife, before becoming a full-time writer. It was spellbinding entertainment, and once I started it I found it very difficult to put down until the final page. I'm really looking forward to his new one called LUCIFER'S TEARS when it comes out in UK paperback in November.

Terry Halligan, England
March 2011

More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.

last updated 6/03/2011 11:54