Saturday, April 18, 2015

Exhilarating Discovery: Finnish Crime Fiction Author Pekka Hiltunen

The second book in an emotionally gripping crime fiction series by Pekka Hiltunen arrived in the US this winter: BLACK NOISE. I took my time reading it and thinking about what makes it so good. Here's the scoop:

One day, Hiltunen, who admits he is often called the Finnish Stieg Larsson (both authors had been journalists), met a pair of very intelligent women who were highly knowledgeable about crime-fighting, and the experience began to possess him, turning him toward careful observations of the power of women's friendships. When he pulled a plot into place around the characters who were coming alive to him -- Mari and Lia, two Finnish women in London with vastly different roles in a private crime-fighting force called the Studio -- he found he'd become fascinated as much by the friendships as by the crimes. Although Mari and Lia are "on the same side" and investigating and taking action together, they haven't revealed themselves fully to each other. This added level of mystery ramps up the tension as they tackle a new form of terrorism.

The crimes begin with what seems like a prank: People's YouTube accounts are being hacked, and under their names, bizarre all-black videos of just darkness air on the social network. But then videos of brutal violence appear in the same way -- on accounts of people who are clueless about why they've been targeted -- and the body count in London soars. It's clear there's a hate-crime aspect to the choice of victims ... and when Mari's team tries to tackle solving the crime in ways that the conventional police either can't or won't, one of the team members becomes another victim.

Hiltunen forsakes the "easy crime" paths, opening up instead the layers of soul-crippling grief that come with the loss of a team member, and the desperation that takes over in the ensuing weeks, even months. What pulls the team back together is an odd but very realistic mix of family support, personal determination, and unwillingness to see the investigation fail -- especially when it means that a murderer who's damaged the team directly may escape.

Don't take the Stieg Larsson comparison to heart: Hiltunen's direction, although it involves brutal crime, avoids (at least in BLACK NOISE) the sexual predation that stalks Larsson's books, and the violence, while horrible, skates a fine edge of being "real" but not obscenely gory. It's the characters that matter -- their delicate approach to each other's private worlds, and their willingness to go beyond friendship, in the way that elite armed forces members forge a bond that carried them into action despite the terrible costs ahead. This isn't just a psychological thriller; it's a probing and rewarding look at how people choose to assert the demand for justice.
Mari changed her mind about standing aside once the police spokespeople announced that the kickings weren't necessarily hate crimes.

The determination and speed with which she took up the case showed how angry she was.

Immediately after the updated police press conference, Mari called them all to the Studio, and as she walked to Bankside, Lia already knew what was up.

'Idiots,' Mari said, meaning the police. ... 'They were all grabbed coming out of gay bars,' Mari said. 'And their bodies were brought back to the bars." ... Mari already had tasks outlined for them.
Not only did I savor BLACK NOISE -- I'm sure I'll be re-reading it. And, oh yes, I'll have to find a copy of the first in the series, Cold Courage. There's a video of the author describing his entry into that first book, on YouTube (shiver!). Click here to watch it, provided by the publisher, Hesperus. Yes, Hiltunen's spoke English is excellent in the video -- but a tip of the hat is due to the translator from BLACK NOISE from the original Finnish, Owen F. Witesman. The book in English flows well, and is well worth reading.

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