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Snow Angels

A book by James Thompson

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Debut explores racism and sex in the endless Finnish winter night

  • Jan 12, 2010
An American ex-pat who makes his home in Finland, Thompson combines a visceral American sensibility with the traditional melancholy distance of the Scandinavian thriller.

Racism and an insularity drive the investigation in this debut Inspector Kari Vaara novel, which centers on the extremely brutal murder of a beautiful Somali immigrant actress.

It's just before Christmas. Vaara is married to an American ski resort manager, pregnant with their first child. The murder call comes in just as Kate is unburdening herself of her misgivings about the endless Finnish night.

"When I first came to Finland to interview for my job, it was summer. The sun was up twenty-four hours a day. Everyone here seemed so happy. I met you....This winter, I feel like the cold and dark will never end. I get it now that people weren't happy, just drunk."

Vaara, who lives and works in the small Lapland town he was born in, knows he isn't cut out for America. He will never leave Finland. But before it comes to that he's called to an isolated field where the naked, mutilated corpse of Sufia Elmi lies in the snow.

"Finns are sensitive about race relations because by and large we're closet racists." Vaara knows he's in for headlines and hopes the culprit is a German tourist, his own pet prejudice.

But, perhaps even better, the evidence points to the wealthy man who absconded with Vaara's first wife 15 years earlier.

In the first of many twists and contradictions, the dead woman's father paints a portrait of a virtuous Muslim daughter, her virtue ensured by passion deadening genital mutilation. But her beer-bottle, cigarette-butt strewn hotel room paints a different picture. While the autopsy shows pristine lungs and healthy organs.

The investigation delves deep into a small community. It touches on Vaara's own family past - his drunken father, the ice-fishing death of his little sister years earlier, his messy marriage. It also touches on the lives of his team members, especially the religious fundamentalist Valterri and the Thai-vacation bound Antti.

Sordid sex, personal betrayals and lots of alcohol fill the long Finnish night, where violence is higher, per capita, than many American cities and the sun won't be even a glimmer for weeks.

Vaara's narration is lean, reserved and heartfelt. He's a likeable, flawed character who feels more than he's able to express and Thompson brings him readily to life. Readers will look forward to his next outing.

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October 05, 2012
I enjoyed your review of "Snow Angels" which I just read and enjoyed too.
More Snow Angels reviews
review by . October 05, 2012
In a dark novel, Finnish Inspector Vaara is called by Sgt. Valtteri, informing him that black actress Suffia Elim's body has been found. She has been murdered and it looks like a hate crime.      There is instant drama in the novel as Vaara narrates the story in the hard boiled tradition of Hammett and Chandler. He is analytical and unemotional when dealing with these brutal crimes. His descriptions of the setting are also well done as when he describes …
review by . December 01, 2009
It's always interesting to read a book that begins a new series, particularly one involving police procedurals. This extremely well written work, set in Finland, is the first in a proposed new series featuring a police inspector in a small Finnish town around the Arctic Circle. In the winter, there is really no daylight, and the people tend to be morose, drink a lot, and either kill someone else or themselves. A grim way of life!    The story concerns the brutal murder of a young …
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Lynn Harnett ()
Ranked #182
I love to read, always have, and have been writing reviews for more years than I care to say. Early on, i realized there are more books than there is time to read, so I read only books I like and mostly … more
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American-born Thompson, who's lived in Finland for the past decade, offers a bleak look at the ravages of that country's long, dark winter as well as intriguing glimpses of Finnish culture in his solid U.S. debut, the first in a new crime series. Shortly before Christmas, Kari Vaara, the police chief of the Lapland town of Kittilä, gets a phone call informing him that the body of Sufia Elmi, a Somali refugee and minor film star, has been found in a snowfield on a reindeer farm. The victim has also been mutilated, perhaps raped, and a racial slur carved into her flesh. When Kari's ex-wife's lover becomes the prime suspect, Kari spurns the chance to recuse himself and presses on. The winter hazards of alcoholism, suicide and murder all play a part as Kari uncovers more suspects. Sufia's imperious father, Abdi Barre, who was a doctor in his native country and now runs a cleaning service, puts added pressure on Kari. Tangled smalltown relationships and lust also fuel this noirish thriller.(Jan.)
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ISBN-10: 0399156178
ISBN-13: 978-0399156175
Author: James Thompson
Publisher: Putnam Adult

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