HELSINKI WHITE – James Thompson

James Thompson gives these words to his protagonist, Kari Varra, a detective in Finland’s national police force, in the firsst book in the series, SNOW ANGELS.   “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.”

In LUCIFER’S TEARS, the silence becomes deafening.  Kari is asked to investigate Finnish heroes of the German occupation during World War II.  Germany wants to identify Finns who cooperated with the Gestapo in the killing of Jews.  HELSINKI WHITE screams rage and greed.  There is no longer any need to hide behind whispers.

Kari’s life has been turned inside out.  Within 24 hours, Kari’s American wife, Kate has given birth to a perfect and healthy daughter.  Kari has been suffering from severe migraines for over a year.  His brother is a neurologist and when Kari tells him his problem, he finds himself rushed into surgery for the removal of a benign brain tumor.  Kari recovers quickly but the surgery has removed those parts of his personality that allow him to feel emotions beyond that of a six year-old who wants what he wants when he wants it.  Kari is intelligent and he is in love with his wife deeply enough to create a persona based on his memory of love.  He practices smiling in the mirror.

Kari recognizes that without emotions, life lacks meaning.  Nothing has intrinsic value.  Before the brain surgery, Kari Vaara was a national hero, shot twice in the line of duty.  He was a good cop who believed it was his role to do things to help the people of Finland.  It is this Kari who is offered the leadership position in a new black ops unit designed to control the drug trade in Finland.  He makes it clear that he will not kill anyone. When the unit becomes operational, it is the post-surgery Kari who is in charge and killing is merely the means to an end.  Kari is a rogue cop without a conscience.

The global economic crisis hits Finland and the Finns react by creating a political identity similar to that in America.  The Real Finns, like the Tea Party, have to blame some group for their loss of power and influence.  Both countries turn on their dark-skinned immigrants.  James Thompson moves from the Finland of the travel channel to a dystopian view of what a country can become when it buries its long held values and creates a society of “others”.

Kari Vaara is Finland.  The honest, hard-working cop, committed to helping those who need it, becomes something unrecognizable.  The man who knows that he has loved his wife deeply has to pretend he still does.  The moment he hold his new-born daughter he discovers a love he never knew existed and then she is no more than a stranger. Finland welcomed strangers in the good times but when those good times faded, Finland turned back to its recent past.  There are still those who remember the German occupation and some still agree with the Nazi philosophy of racial purity.  Kari loses himself when part of his brain is removed, leaving an empty space. Finland’s empty space is created by financial upheaval and it is being filled by racism.

James Thompson has written a thriller in the sense of thriller as fear.  Many of the books set in the Nordic countries that have been published recently have raised the spectra of the emerging neo-Nazi movements.  Hitler capitalized on the fear and the uncertainty of the Great Depression.   The current economic crisis has raised some of those same concerns about Jews and those who come into countries to steal that to which they have no right.  Kari asks a leader of the neo-Nazi movement why this would be good for Finland.  He replies that  Naziism offers societal protection for those who have the same race, values, and beliefs.  There is still enough of the real Kari left to know that that such  society is a myth.

Thompson has taken a hard look at the culture of us/them and wrapped them in a police procedural that starts with the murder of a high-ranking member of the government.  It is difficult to get any sense of where the author is going to go with the next book in the series but everyone who reads book three is a guaranteed audience for book four.

Kate wonders if their new status is a result of Kari being a criminal.  She is told that it is the result of Kari being powerful.  Thompson suggests that the words are synonymous.

As to the title,  Helsinki is being destroyed by the white heroin and cocaine that is flooding the city.  Helsinki and Finland will self-destruct if they embrace the racial purity policies of the Nazis.

This is an exceptional book.

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3 Responses to HELSINKI WHITE – James Thompson

  1. Pingback: Pitch Black Noir from the White World, and What is my Name? « Jimland

  2. Barbara says:

    I’m looking forward to reading it – great review, Beth!

  3. Beth says:

    Thank you, Barbara. It is so nice to get a nice comment from an expert.

    HELSINKI WHITE is much darker, creating an oxymoron, than the previous books. i don’t know if “enjoy” is the best word to describe the experience but “captured” works. The perfect Finland of fiction and the travel pages is not in evidence but the problems resonate for those of us who live in much bigger and decidedly less homogeneous societies. I am fascinated by the Europe that existed between the wars. Jim makes it clear that all the better angels are fleeing and the racism and hate of national socialism has never lost its fanatics. I taught history and talking about it with my captive (captured) audience showed that each generation needs to learn about the worst of humanity throughout the centuries because people keep falling for the same rhetoric.

    You won’t want to put the book down.

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