Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Snow Angels: James Thompson

This is the first novel in the Inspector Vaara series by James Thompson. With so much violence, it probably wasn't the book I should have chosen to read this month, but I was interested in the setting.

Description from the back of my book:
It is called kaamos: two weeks of unrelenting darkness and soul-numbing cold that falls upon Finnish Lapland, a hundred miles into the Arctic Circle, just before Christmas. Some get through it with the help of cheap Russian alcohol; some sink into depression.
This year, it may have driven someone mad enough to commit murder. The brutalized body of a beautiful Somali woman has been found in the snow, and Inspector Kari Vaara must find her killer. It will be a challenge in a place where ugly things lurk under frozen surfaces, and silence is a way of life.

This book was first published in 2009 and was reissued in trade paperback format in the US in 2011. My copy says this on the cover: "If you liked The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, you'll love this."  I don't see the comparison myself, except for the setting in a Scandinavian country and a lot of violence.

I cannot say I enjoyed this book overall, even though it has some good points. The crime was very brutal and there was extensive detailed graphic discussion of the brutality of the crime throughout the book.

Sometimes I can handle books dealing with brutal and violent crime, if the characters are well developed and/or the plot is very interesting. However, in this novel, there were very few sympathetic characters. The only interesting characters with any depth were the inspector and his wife. Inspector Kari Vaara has always lived in Lapland, but his wife is an American woman who is the general manager of a large ski resort. They have not been married long, and they face the challenges that two people from different cultures would have, plus both have demanding jobs.

The story is written in first person, present tense, which sometimes added to my confusion. Except for the present tense, I found Thompson's writing very readable and he pulled me into the story, but the plot seemed overly complex, unrealistic, and confusing.

I learned a lot about Finland from this book, although not much of it positive. The story discusses social problems in Finland—violence, mental illness, alcoholism, and racism. This book was published in Finland first, in the Finnish language, even though the author was an American. At the time the book was published, James Thompson had lived in Finland for 12 years. He died in 2014 at the age of 50.

There are a total of five books in the Inspector Vaara series, published between 2009 and 2015. I believe that the rest of the novels are set in Helsinki. I have not given up on this author, although I am not in a rush to try anymore of his books right now.

Many reviews of this book are much more positive. Thus I am including links to reviews at Material Witness, Petrona, Mysteries and More from Saskatchewan, and Kittling Books.

This is a good interview with the author at Scene of the Crime, with more about the setting and a short excerpt from this book.


Publisher:  Berkley Books, 2011. Orig. pub. 2009.
Length:     292 pages
Format:     Trade Paperback
Series:      Inspector Vaara, #1
Setting:     Kattila, Lapland, Finland
Genre:      Police Procedural
Source:    On my TBR pile since 2012.


Cath said...

Many years ago I had a friend who had lived in Finland for a while. She said it's a beautiful country but it had (maybe still has) the highest suicide rate in Europe and she understood why. She really was not keen on Finland. When I saw you had a book for Finland I was very interested but it probably is not for me now I've read your review.

TracyK said...

Cath, I do understand. And that information about Finland is interesting. I am going to try to find a mystery set in Finland by another author for comparison. One Goodreads review by someone from Finland said that this author had it right.

Bill Selnes said...

TracyK: I read the book back in 2011. I found the explicit descriptions of death distracting. I did enjoy the book and planned to read the next in the series but I never followed up and do not know what happened. I believe it could have been just as successful a story without all the bloody detail.

Margot Kinberg said...

I'm glad you found some things to like about this, Tracy. I'll be honest; the violence wouldn't appeal to me at all. That alone might put me off this one. Still, the setting interests me, too. So does the context.

TracyK said...

Bill, I agree with you that the book would have been much better with less details about the death. I have added your review to those listed in my post. I plan to try the second book in the series, but right now it is not a high priority.

I hope things are well with you. I saw yesterday that you had posted on Firemaker by Peter May. I will be stopping by to comment, because I am interested in that series.

TracyK said...

Margot, I try to accept that violence will be a part of a mystery and may be unpleasant, but this one went over my level of acceptance. The setting is very interesting though, and almost makes up for it.

Take care.

Katrina said...

We have a Finnish friend and from what he says the country has changed a lot in recent years - for the better. I think the long dark winter has a lot to do with their problems with depression and the alcoholism will be linked to that too. Our friend moved to Scotland though - and then on to San Francisco where I think the weather would just about kill him as he couldn't cope well with the Scottish sun!

TracyK said...

Katrina, I hope Finland has improved. The alcoholism sounds like problems that I read about in other cold areas, not that I am any expert.

Judith said...

Hi Tracy,
I appreciated your take on this novel, your thoughts and reflections are comprehensive, and then offering other readers' thoughts is wonderful. The author died at the age of 50--how sad. I may research him a bit, but I'm with you that the darkness in a book is best swallowed by compassionate, warm characters that one can identify with.

Rick Robinson said...

I’m glad you sort of liked it, but

When I got to:
“I cannot say I enjoyed this book overall, even though it has some good points. The crime was very brutal and there was extensive detailed graphic discussion of the brutality of the crime throughout the book. (emphasis mine)
I stopped. NOT a book I would consider reading. I’m way past bloody graphic violence in books I read. I’m not saying shooting and such, but this sounds too intense for me.

Stay safe, breathe clear.

TracyK said...

Judith, It was very sad that he died so young. He led an interesting life. The book had good points, but I could not recommend it.

TracyK said...

Rick, I very seldom stop reading a novel. I often end up not finishing non-fiction books, if they don't hold my interest. But this one did and I was interested in Finland and a setting so far north and the attitudes there. I was reading it for the European reading challenge. So it was worth it to me to finish it.

You stay safe also.

Clothes in Books said...

Ok well that's a helpful review because I am certain I would not like it! Useful to know. A pity, because that's such a nice title isn't it.

TracyK said...

Moira, I would not have bothered to review this except that I wanted to count it for the European Reading Challenge. And it was the perfect book for that challenge and I did learn a lot. It was definitely the wrong book to read at this time, and it turned me toward comfort reads for a while.

col2910 said...

I've seen some of the author's books around but don't think I ever bought them, I might be wrong though. You haven't made me want to rush out to correct that.

TracyK said...

Col, I would not advise buying the author's books, although later books could be much better. But if you have any by James Thompson, it would not hurt to try them. Your experience could be different.