Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lucifer's Tears - James Thompson

Lucifer’s Tears
An Inspector Vaara Novel
James Thompson
Berkley Prime Crime

After the events detailed in SNOW ANGELS, Inspector Kari Vaara is ‘rewarded’ for his performance with his choice of police appointments in Finland.  The truth is, he’d prefer to stay in his tiny hometown above the Arctic Circle, but he knows his wife, Kate, a transplanted American, would prefer to live in Helsinki.  So he takes a position in the homicide squad in Helsinki, much to the displeasure of most of the other squad members.  He’s not too happy, but Kate works as the general manager of a large hotel and is expecting their first child, so he does what he always does: endures.  Nearly continuous insomnia and unending headaches make endurance a real feat.
As proof of the disregard in which his co-workers hold him, Kari is relegated to the overnight shift and given the new guy, Mensa member Milo Nieminen, as a partner.  Milo is something of a loose cannon.  He’s sure he’s smarter than everyone else (he may or may not be right about that) and with the arrogance of youth, knows more about police work than the others (he’s definitely wrong there.)  When the partners work a torture/murder, Milo tries to show off by working out blood spatter angles in his head, as opposed to consulting the resident expert, as will inevitably be necessary.
That murder investigation takes up most of the partner’s time.  But Kari is working his own case, on direct orders from the nation’s chief of police.  The Simon Wiesenthal Center would like Arvid Lahtinen, a 90-year-old man, a Finnish war hero, extradited and tried for war crimes during World War II.  Like most Finns, Kari is unaware of the history shared by Germany and Finland during the War.  As it turns out, Kari’s late grandfather worked with Arvid during those days.  Kari has nothing but fond memories of a loving grandparent.  Is it even remotely possible that the man who fed him ice cream and loved him could have participated in war crimes?  Because if Arvid is guilty, then so is Kari’s beloved grandfather.
The main storyline concerns Kari’s investigation of Arvid.  Twined around that plot is another major story, concerning the torture/murder of the beautiful wife of a Russian construction magnate.  The police force is fairly small, so Kari and Milo end up investigating several other murders, too.  None of them are pleasant, and lovers of cozy mysteries – if they’re still reading – should look elsewhere.  The results of violence and the lives of the people are graphically portrayed here.  For those of stouter constitutions, this is the second in a series of very literate mysteries. 
The setting will invite comparison to Stieg Larsson’s work, but this series more than stands on its own.  The author does an amazing job of painting the daily lives and customs of urban Finland during winter. The life of the main character, like any investigator, is split between his home life and his professional life.  He’s often pulled in conflicting directions, and this seems utterly realistic.  The added pressure of a baby on the way, and the in-laws arriving from the States adds to the domestic chaos.  His professional life and political entanglements continue.  Things come together in a way that is startling, but in retrospect seems almost inevitable.  This novel, this series, is not to be missed by serious mystery fans.

Rating: 8
February 2012
ISBN# 978-0-425-24539-2 (trade paperback)


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