The third book in the series featuring Finnish police officer Kari Vaara is HELSINKI WHITE. It’s a terrific series so I am posting the reviews of the first two books to encourage readers to discover them before the March 15 publication of HELSINKI WHITE.
James Thompson’s SNOW ANGELS is filled with bad language, horrific details about mutilation, brutal murders, characters who are victims of their geography, and a culture about which most of us know very little. There is repeated use of a term that most Americans shun. I started reading and didn’t stop until I finished the book.
I have to clarify that; I did skim the most lurid details but once the book is started, it is impossible to put it down. This is the first in a series of books featuring Inspector Kari Vaara, assigned to an area in Lapland, above the Arctic Circle. Kari is married to Kate, an American, the reverse of the author’s relationship, he, an American, married to a Finnish woman. Kate’s difficulty in adjusting to the perpetual darkness of winter likely mirrors the author’s experience with a night that doesn’t end.
The book begins with the discovery of the mutilated body of actress Sufi Elmi, an immigrant from Somalia. “Finland has a … lot of violent crime….We kill the people we love… almost always in drunken rages…. We don’t talk about hatred, we hate in silence. It’s our way. We do everything in silence.” Sufi Elmi’s death is different. It screams hatred and as Vaara tries to discover motive and murderer, the circle of suspects expands, drawing in people who seemingly would never have known Sufi. The circle of victims expands as well, all, at some time, in some way, having been touched by the beautiful woman whose death started it all.
There is a harshness to this book that directly reflects the harshness of the setting. The author frequently reminds us that things happen in the dark of winter that could not happen in the light of summer; some crimes are born because of the darkness. But Vaara tells us, “In winter, twenty-four hours a day, uncountable stars outline the vaulted ceiling of the great cathedral we live in. Finnish skies are the reason I believe in God.” Vaara’s salvation is Kate; he survives the problems of investigating a high profile murder in the town in which he grew up, where suspects can be close friends from childhood and some can be even closer than that.