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Finnish Mystery Series seems to have a rich history of crime novels, including  Mika Waltari’s curmudgeonly Inspector Palmu of the Helsinki police who made his first appearance in 1939.  The books were made into popular films in the 1960s. Kirsti Porras, Finland’s first female author of detective novels, wrote three books in the 1940’s featuring Helsinki Inspector Kanerva.   Marton Taiga was a prolific author of police procedurals starring the very fat but wily police Inspector W.J. Kairala, popular in the 1930s and 40s.  But very few modern Finnish mysteries have been translated into English, perhaps they are too bleak for American tastes.   Here is a sampling of what is available.

Joensuu, Matti

Matti Joensuu, until recently a criminal investigator in the Helsinki Police Department, started writing crime fiction because it helped him process the sad and terrible crimes he has seen in the line of duty.  He has extraordinary insight into the lives of ordinary people and how easily they may fall into crime.  So far he has written ten novels starring Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää of Helsinki’s Violent Crimes unit.  Harjunpaa’s fatalism seems even deeper than Kurt Wallander’s.  The criminals Harjunpaa pursues reflect the callousness of society and the resulting apathy that seems to afflict so many lives.  Only three novels have been translated into English

1.  Stone Murders (St. Martin’s, 1987)

2.  The Priest of Evil (Arcadia, 2006)

3.  To Steal her Love (Eurocrime, 2008)

Lehtolainen, Leena

Leena Lehtolainen started writing novels when she was ten years old and has now become one of the best-selling novelists in Finland, having twice won the Finnish crime novel society yearly prize. She is best-known for her crime series featuring red-headed Maria Kallio, of the Helsinki police. There are ten books in the series, though only four have been translated into English. By the second novel in the series Maria has left Helsinki and gotten a law degree, but she is still an investigator at heart.  Later books in the series will show Maria getting married, having children and balancing work and family with ease.  Maria is refreshingly upbeat, not weary and depressed like so many of her male counterparts.

1.  My First Murder, (Amazon Crossing, 2012)

2.  Her Enemy (Amazon Crossing, 2013)

3.  Copper Heart (AmazonCrossing, 2014)

4.  Snow Woman (AmazonCrossing, 2014)

Nykanen, Harri

Finnish author Harri Nykanen has written nearly 30 books, including two series. He won the Finnish crime novel society’s yearly prize in 1990 and 2001.  Nykanen’s series about an underworld hitman named Raid was a hit in Finland and was made into a successful 12-episode TV series which has been shown in parts of the U.S.   Raid gets into all sorts of scrapes that bedevil Detective Lieutenant Jansson of the Helsinki police force. Carl Hiaasen fans will enjoy these books.  Only two of the Raid series are available in the U. S.

1.  Raid and the Blackest Sheep (Ice Cold Crime, 2010)

2.  Raid and the Kid (Ice Cold Crime, 2012)

Nykanen’s second series stars  the eccentric Inspector Ariel Kafka of Helsinki’s Violent Crime Unit.  Kafka is one of only two Jewish policemen in the country.

1.  Nights of Awe (Bitter Lemon, 2012)

2.  Behind God’s Back (Bitter Lemon, 2015)

Sariola, Mauri

In addition to writing more than 100 books, Sariola translated a dozen English-language authors, including Erle Stanley Gardner.  He achieved popular success with two crime series:  the Inspector Susikoski books and the Inspector Wolf Rapids series which were made into a Finnish television series.  Sariola won international recognition with The Helsinki Affair, which was translated into many languages, including English.  Of the four subsequent novels featuring young lawyer Matti Viima, only the Torvick Affair was published in the U.S.  Sariola’s good eye for detail makes his books an interesting chronicle of life in Finland from the 1950s to mid-1980s.  He also wrote books under the pseudonym of Esko Laukko.  He died in 1985.

1.  The Helsinki Affair (Walker, 1971)

2.  The Torvick Affair (Walker, 1972)

Sipila, Jarkko

Finnish reporter and crime novelist Jarkko Sipila, has written nine Helsinki Homicide novels featuring Lieutenant Detective Kari Takamaki, the head of the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit. Takamaki is refreshingly different from most Nordic policemen, he is a good husband and father, he’s not an alcoholic and he gets along with his colleagues and superiors. Another prominent character is Suhonen, who does most of the undercover work. Sipila’s police procedurals, which he has adapted for TV, take readers into a world of organized crime, gangs and corrupt officials. So far only five books in the series have been translated into English.

1.  Against the Wall (Ice Cold Crime, 2009)

2.  Vengeance (Ice Cold Crime, 2010)

3.  Nothing But the Truth (Ice Cold Crime, 2011)

4.  Cold Trail (Ice Cold Crime, 2013)

5.  Darling (Ice Cold Crime, 2014)

Christmas on Duty (2013) is a short story only available on Kindle.

Thompson,  James

Thompson (d. 2014) was an American who lived in Helsinki.  His protagonist Kari Vaara, is a hardened Helsinki police detective, trying to navigate honorably through the pervasive corruption of the country and the police force.  The first book in the series, Snow Angels, was nominated for both an Edgar and an Anthony award.  Later in the series we see Vaari’s health threatened by a brain tumor and his wife succumbing to alcoholism.   This is undoubtedly one of the darkest Scandinavian crime series, but it is well written and very moving.

1.  Snow Angels (Berkley, 2010)

2.  Lucifer’s Tears (Putnam, 2011)

3.  Helsinki White (Putnam, 2012)

4.  Helsinki Blood (Putnam, 2013)

Helsinki Noir (Akashik, 2014) is a collection, edited by Thompson, of short stories, mostly about crime in Helsinki.

Wagner, Jan Costin

When we first meet him, Finnish police detective Kimmo Joentaa, is dazed with grief. He has just nursed his beautiful young wife through her decline and death from cancer. Though he should be on leave, he insists on going back to work in order to bring some semblance of meaning back to his life. He throws himself into a strange serial murder case and in the process comes to terms with his loss. Wagner’s touching and insightful portrait of this policeman doing his job under extreme emotional tension is memorable.

1.  Ice Moon (Houghton Mifflin, 2007)

2.  Silence (Pegasus, 2011)

3.  The Winter of the Lions ( Harvill Secker, 2011)

4.  Light in a Dark House (Random House UK, 2014)

–revised 4/6/2015

Posted December/10/2012

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