This is another look at the second book in the Kari Vaara series. The review of the third book, HELSINKI WHITE, will be posted Friday.
LUCIFER’S TEARS – James Thompson
“James Thompson’s… 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…. 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”
That paragraph is the opening of the review of SNOW ANGELS that I posted on this blog, first on July 5, 2010 and again on January 12, 2011. It can be applied word for word to the second book in the Kari Vaara series, LUCIFER’S TEARS. Finland is a harsh country, cold beyond what most people can imagine and dark as land close to the Arctic Circle will be. Kari and his American wife, Kate, are living in Helsinki, having moved south from their former home near the top of the world. Kari misses the long nights of darkness but Kate found it difficult to adjust. She is in the last month of pregnancy and he is suffering from debilitating headaches that may play a role in his ability to make decisions.
Kari is new to the homicide squad in Helsinki and he is assigned to partner with Milo, who is simply new to policing. Milo makes it clear to Kari that they are both equally disliked by the other members of the squad. Milo is unwelcome because he is a genius and solved two very complex cases by using the intelligence with which he was blessed and pirating some software. Getting promoted so young over the heads of detectives who had worked hard and successfully over the years, creates the inevitable resentment. Kari is thought of as a cop who makes serious mistakes but has the political connections to get away with it. Kari has killed a man and he has been shot twice. “That speaks of carelessness,” and no cop wants to be paired with a careless man.
Kari and Milo find themselves investigating the brutal murder of a woman. Her body is found next to the man with whom she has been having an affair. Rein Saar calls the police himself but that doesn’t mean he isn’t considered the primary suspect. He claims that he was hit from behind and knocked unconscious. Whoever attacked him placed him in the bed next to Iisa Filippov, the wife of Ivan, the very successful owner of a construction business who has reputed ties to the Russian gangs and the leaders of the Finnish government. Kari is left in no doubt that the people who wield the influence and power in Finland do not want the case pursued, especially because, as Kari believes, the more likely suspect behind the murder is the victim’s husband. Iisa Filappov and her husband’s secretary/mistress Linda share an unusually close physical resemblance to each other and to 1950′s pin-up, Bettie Page. Both women enjoyed playing off their appearances and playing games.
Kari’s home life becomes complicated when Kate’s brother and sister, John and Mary, come to be with Kate when her baby is born. Kate raised her siblings when there was no one else to do it. Kate accepted the job at a ski resort in Finland when she was convinced that her brother and sister could manage their lives without her. Mary is married to a doctor; John is a professor of history at Princeton. Then Kari discovers that Mary’s marriage is just about over and John is not a professor but an alcoholic who enjoys dabbling in drugs. Kari needs to do whatever is necessary to keep Kate from finding out how far off the tracks John, in particular, has gone.
But the worst of the pressures on Kari come from his supervisors in the police department. Kari has been given a secret assignment. Germany is asking Finland to investigate accusations against ninety year-old Arvid Lahtinin that he participated in the executions of Jews and other POWs during World War II. For Kari, the job is so much more difficult when he learns that his grandfather and Arvid were assigned to the same unit. Kari is reluctant to believe that the gracious man whom he is coming to see as a surrogate grandfather could have committed the crimes of which he has been accused but there seems to be evidence that substantiates the allegation. The years when Germany dominated Europe still have a cloud the lives of those whose parents were born after Hitler was defeated. The antisemitism that fueled Hitler’s power across the continent is a shame handed from generation to generation. The ascendancy of the neo-Nazi movement in countries conquered by the Hitler’s army almost seventy years after it emerged in Germany is a fearsome prospect for those required to ensure the safety of all the citizens in their various countries. Germany is determined not to be the scourge of Europe again.
“The snow, already almost waist-high, pours down in a torrent. Lucifer doesn’t relent. Dante states that the devil resides in the ninth circle of hell, trapped in the ice like the rest of us, and I feel that he’s here, watching over us with approval. Except for the fact that the extreme cold makes my bad knee useless, I couldn’t care less. Let the snow fly.” We have met Kari when it is dark and cold and his view of his world is equally dark. It would be nice to meet Kari and Kate when the sun is shining; perhaps his world will be less oppressive and more joy-filled.
James Thompson’s hero/protagonist is a wounded soul making him very interesting. Kate is the counter-point.