Wagner, Jan Costin - 'Light in a Dark House' (translated by Anthea Bell)
"A man calmly goes up to the fourteenth floor of a hotel, says good morning to the catering ladies – in a friendly way, of course – stands on the roof terrace and enjoys the view. Then a second man comes along, the two of them talk. Then one of them falls off the roof and the other goes home. The end."
In Jan Costin Wagner's fourth "Joentaa" crime novel, LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE, two separate murder investigations converge on a small town set amongst Finland's lakes and forests. Kimmo Joentaa is hunting the weeping killer of a coma victim and Helsinki detectives Westerberg (THE WINTER OF THE LIONS) and Seppo are tracing the link between a dead businessman in Helsinki and a dead politician in Auno. All three detectives are far away from their home patch, so what has brought them to the town of Karjasaari? The book's narrative is interspersed with entries from two diaries: one from 1985 and the other from the present day. It's a risky technique, but in Wagner's hands it enhances his cool, off-centre, tone as he weaves a story of abuse, damage and consequences, beautifully translated by Anthea Bell ("I try to be as invisible as possible: I believe that you should try to find the author's voice and put yourself into the author's mind").
Wagner is German but sets his crime fiction in his wife's native Finland. And this book does remind me of the qualities of some of my favourite Nordic crime fiction. It embraces the lives and the individuality of its characters alongside the crime solving; ordinary people can be driven to criminal acts and detectives are human too. On the other hand, some people are just plain bad.
I have seen the feature-film remake of THE SILENCE, Wagner's second Joentaa novel, but LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE is the first of his novels that I have read. So I can vouch for there being no annoying narrative gaps in reading out of sequence. But I also see what I have been missing and intend to catch up with the rest of Jan Costin Wagner's Finnish crime series as soon as possible. If you love the mystery of character as much as the mystery of crime – set in a wintry Scandinavian landscape – then I think you will savour LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE as much as I did.
Read another review of LIGHT IN A DARK HOUSE.
Lynn Harvey, England