Mystery Books for Sale

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by James Thompson, editor
Akashic Books, November 2014
280 pages
ISBN: 161775251X

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

HELSINKI NOIR is a gripping collection of stories that is part of the Akashic Noir series. The editor, James Thompson, could not have had much trouble finding stories that fit this genre. Whereas the "noir" side of other places in this series - like Staten Island, for instance, or Cape Cod - may be difficult to imagine, Helsinki is synonymous with noir. There is a darkness in the Finnish soul, perhaps echoing the country's long winter nights, that lends itself to tales of horror and degenerate behavior. "As this book demonstrates, Finland is a noir nation," Thompson states in his introduction. These new stories by respected Finnish mystery and fiction writers reflect this icy truth.

A number of the stories directly blame this national malaise for the problems and actions of the characters. Some characters believe that the Finns are a horrific people and that Helsinki itself is a cesspool. An opening rant in one story begins, "I hate Helsinki," and goes on from there. Certain images will stick with the reader—a severed head adorning a Christmas tree, the withered hand of an abused child, two dead women encased in ice-covered snow, a merciless teenage gang prowling the night, searching for their next victim.

Thompson has chosen an interesting mix of characters and settings. Each story fits the overall theme of the book but in a distinctive fashion. One story focuses on a detective disguised as Santa in a famous Helsinki department store. Another traces the actions of a disturbed young woman who covets the child and life of her neighbor. In one chilling tale, an unhappy alcoholic sees a man at an AA meeting who promises to help him change his life. We know this will not end well. In some stories, the characters feel misunderstood by society or by other people. A man helps out a woman by killing her abuser, yet she is ungrateful.

Besides illuminating the Finnish character, this book also reminds the reader of the joy of reading short fiction. Unlike many pieces that are labeled "short stories" but are often quite lengthy, the individual tales in this book are fairly brief and give the reader intense gratification for just a little commitment of time. James Thompson died this past summer and this fine compendium reminds us of the skill and talent we have lost. Whether you are already a fan of the gloomy Finns or are new to the uniquely sinister aspect of Scandinavian literature, this book will provide steady entertainment.

§Anne Corey is a writer, poet, teacher and botanical artist in New York's Hudson Valley.

Reviewed by Anne Corey, November 2014

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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