Snow Angels – James Thompson

Setting: A small Finnish town, above the Arctic Circle. (New meaning to the expression Cold Case.)

Story: A beautiful, black actress from Somalia is found dead and mutilated in the middle of a field. It looks like the work of a madman – or mad men – and brings down a wave of media interest on to the community and its police head, Inspector Vaara. He has to find out who did it, without destroying his career, because the main suspect is now living with his ex-wife, and suggestions of jealousy and a frame-up are being uttered.

(Note: this is the book that comes before Lucifer’s Tears.)

The Good Stuff: Thompson gets Finland, and he brings its unique culture to the reader in a sympathetic fashion, allowing it to flavor the story without making the basics of human nature too remote. He nimbly handles the seamier side of that part of the world and does not dodge the challenge of racism the plot inevitably stirs.

“Finns are sensitive about race relations because by and large we’re closet racists. As I once explained to Kate, it’s not the overt racism of the American kind she’s accustomed to, but a quiet racism. The passing over of foreigners for promotions, a general disregard and disdain. I compared it to politics. Americans ramble on about politics but have a low voter turnout. Finns seldom talk about politics, but around eighty percent vote in presidential elections. We don’t talk about hatred, we hate in silence. It’s our way. We do everything in silence.”

His plot is well put together, and the clues for the do it yourself detective are clever and entertaining. The whodunnit aspect is a quality piece of writing. You very definitely get the sense that this is a Nordic crime book, not an American crime transplanted to an alien setting. The characterization is good, and the Inspector’s back story, family situation, and present dilemma are solid, authentic and interesting. The interaction between the Inspector and his American spouse is superb.

In short, this is an enjoyable read.

The Not So Good Stuff: Not much. Occasionally, I felt Thompson was holding something back in his writing. It’s not as taut as Elmore Leonard or Ed McBain, but Thompson didn’t use that extra space or flexibility to go that little bit further. For example, his observational pieces on Finland and its people were excellent, but maybe he could have covered other topics with the same verve. This book needs that something more to elevate it to the top of the tree – though it is not far away. Yes, I really enjoyed this.

Score: 8/10.