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by Jan Costin Wagner
Harvill Secker, February 2006
320 pages
ISBN: 1843432145

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

I've yet to find a Scandinavian crime novel that is a laugh a minute. Jan Costin Wagner's ICE MOON is grim and disturbing in the extreme, but absolutely compelling reading.

Kimmo Joentaa is a young detective in the Finnish police. As the book opens, his beloved wife Sanna is dying of cancer. Almost incoherent with grief, he returns to their beautiful marital home overlooking a lake. Then, without really knowing what he's doing, he goes back to work almost immediately.

The police in the town of Turku have two major crimes to deal with. Someone has tried to kill a prominent politician, a most unusual occurrence in a country like Finland. And a young woman has been found dead in her home.

It soon becomes apparent that there's a serial killer in the town, but a bloodless one, who leaves the smothered victims looking like they're resting. Joentaa throws himself into the investigation and soon starts to turn the case into a personal crusade where the murderer appears to be tantalisingly close, but yet so far away.

Joentaa's grumpy boss Ketola is a loose cannon presence through the book, often turning his temper onto our hero, particularly when he goes gallivanting off to Stockholm on a whim. It's hard to know how accurate the police procedural elements are -- Joentaa seems to get very close to a number of people involved in the case -- but in the end it really doesn't detract from the story.

Wagner, bravely, shows his hand halfway through the book so we know who has done it relatively early on. But don't go thinking this is a bog-standard whydunit, because it isn't. There's so much going on in ICE MOON that the mystery element sometimes -- and this is absolutely not a criticism -- becomes just part of the very considerable whole.

This could be a depressing book but it isn't. There's even a sort of catharsis at the end for several of the characters. The ending is a slight anti-climax but then this isn't simply a crime novel. It's a beautifully-written, impeccably-paced book not afraid to confront the nature of grief and the mystery of death and it will remain in your mind long after you've finished it. I reckon it will be one of my books of the year -- hell, of any year, come to that.

Reviewed by Sharon Wheeler, March 2006

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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