Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Helsinki White - James Thompson

Helsinki White
An Inspector Vaara Novel
James Thompson
Berkley Prime Crime

After the events of SNOW ANGELS and LUCIFER’S TEARS, Inspector Kari Vaara is Finland’s most famous hero cop.  He’s pretty much untouchable.  That alone makes him perfect for the project the national chief of police has in mind for him.  In a nutshell, Vaara, along with his partners, the genius Milo and the burly Sulo, will become a black ops team.  They report only to the national chief, and their job will be undermining the bad guys wherever possible, by whatever means they like.  They can break and enter, rob, plant evidence, whatever it takes.  Of course, there will be money accrued by these activities.  And, of course, the national chief wants a cut.
It’s possible that Vaara might not have agreed in other circumstances.  As it is, his wife is expecting their first child very soon, and Vaara must undergo brain surgery to remove a tumor.  It might not seem like the best time to be acting like Robin Hood, but it gives Vaara a purpose.  And, as it turns out, they’re all quite good at it.  Taking drugs, money, and guns out of the hands of criminals is quite satisfying.  Getting to dispose of the spoils at will is even better.

While Vaara recovers from surgery, the news announces the murder of a woman who was a “champion of immigrants’ rights” in Finland.  Her death sets off a series of hate crimes between black and white.  Vaara, the national hero cop, is the logical choice to solve this murder and put an end to the racial violence.

Before reading this series, I had no idea that Finland’s population was recently increased by an influx of refugees from Somalia.  It seems to be a fairly well-kept secret outside the country, but inside Finland, there are hate groups that blame any social wrong on the black immigrants.  (See the author’s note at the end for more information.)  It’s an incendiary situation, just waiting for someone to light the fuse.
The story moves seamlessly from the black ops to the murder investigation, and then widens to encompass the kidnapping of two adult children from a very wealthy family.  All of these ingredients seem disparate, but they all come together in the end.  The narrative is almost sparse, and the pacing is swift and even.  Each character grows and sharpens, so that, in the end, no one is left unchanged.  There’s both beauty and brutality in this novel; as in life, often the brutal overshadows everything else.
Rating: 8 ½
February 2013
ISBN# 978-0-425-25344-1

Monday, February 04, 2013

Mistress Of My Fate - Hallie Rubenhold

Mistress Of My Fate
Book One Of The Confessions Of Henrietta Lightfoot
Hallie Rubenhold
Grand Central
Historical Fiction
Henrietta always knew that she was destined to be a companion to her cousin, Lady Catherine.  Stories differed about how Henrietta arrived in the household, but it was always clear that – barring some unforeseen and unlikely marriage – she would live out her days as the poor relation of the family.  The two girls grew up together in the same household, with Catherine clearly the favorite of family and servants alike.  Henrietta learned at an early age that Catherine’s affections were fleeting and most definitely conditional.

Upon Catherine’s London society debut in 1787, Henrietta is there as her almost-invisible chaperone.  Catherine has many suitors, but turns them all away until she meets Baron Allenham.  Even with her sheltered upbringing, Henrietta can see that Allenham is handsome and charming; he even makes sure to speak with her.  Speaking with him, she realizes that he’s also quite intelligent.  Her feelings for him continue to grow despite his clear public dedication to her cousin.  A single dance sets off a chain of events that radically changes Henrietta’s entire life, leading her from her childhood home to a life as a courtesan and celebrated woman in London.
The author is a historian of British society in the eighteenth century, and it shows.  Her depiction of the very formalized courtship rituals, the household hierarchy, and the various strata of society are all expertly drawn.  The difference between a genteel seventeen-year-old girl in the 1787 and the average seventeen-year-old today make the people in this novel seem almost alien.  But the author writes in such a way as to make everything completely accessible and understandable.

The book begins with Henrietta frantically running away from her uncle’s home; an act that will forever ruin her reputation, no matter what the outcome.  The story is told by Henrietta herself, looking back after a period of many years.  When the events begin to get a bit too sticky-sweet, as they will with a teenager in love – the present-day Henrietta interrupts her own narrative to wonder at the fact that she could ever have been so naïve.  In doing so, it keeps the story from being bogged down in sentiment.  It’s clear from the outset that Henrietta will become notorious, and has her public detractors.  In the fashion of the time, she addresses them and the reader, in her narrative.  This is the best kind of historical fiction: a story that makes readers feel that we’ve truly witnessed the past, good and bad.  I never wanted to put it down, and was disappointed when it ended.  It’s good to know that there’s more to come since this is the first of a trilogy.
Rating: 9
January 2013
ISBN# 978-1-4555-1180-8 (hardcover)