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Posts Tagged ‘Finnish police detective’

NIGHTS OF AWE by Harri Nykänen: Book Review

There’s a wonderful new entry in the ever-growing world of Scandinavian detectives.  He’s Ariel Kafka, no relation to the famous Franz Kafka, but I believe Ariel will soon be famous in his own right.  He makes his English-language debut in Harri Nykänen’s novel, Nights of Awe, and there are three other books in the series yet to be translated.

Ariel is one of two Jewish detectives on the Helsinki police force.  And yes, there are Jews in Finland–1,500 of them at last count.

The book opens with two bodies found in the city, one on a bridge and the other on a slope beneath the bridge.  The two men are assumed to be foreigners and one is quickly identified as Ali Hamid, the owner of an auto body shop in the city.  When Ariel arrives at the shop, a third corpse is there.  Bodies are mounting quickly, and there are more to come.

Ariel narrates the novel with a wry sense of humor, even as the bodies pile up.  Describing how he had graduated only fourth in his class from the police academy, Ariel says, “…the burdens that Einstein and Oppenheimer had left for less brilliant Jews like myself had weighed heavily on me.”  Referring to receiving several invitations to dinner before the twenty-four hour fast of the Jewish holiday Yom Kippur (the Night of Awe referred to in the title), Ariel says, “Evidently a Jewish man of my age who lived alone was a hopelessly pitiful case.” 

And speaking about his lack of romantic success, he reminisces about a three-year relationship he had that ended because the woman felt Jewish traditions were too difficult.  “A few years later she married a Kurd from Iraq and converted to Islam.”  You have to love someone who can tell these stories on himself.

As the corpses multiply, tensions rise between the police department and Finland’s Security Police.  These issues intensify when a theory involving the dead Muslim men seems to be connected to a threat against the Jewish house of worship, which will be hosting the Israeli foreign minister during the Jewish High Holy Days.  

Ariel is approached by his brother Eli and by Raoul Silberstein, chair of the Helsinki Jewish Congregation.  It appears that the men are involved in security matters at the synagogue, a fact that surprises Ariel, and Silberstein is demanding that Ariel tell them if the congregation is involved in the case.  But Ariel says he is under an oath of confidentiality about this case as with others and refuses, much to their dismay, to give them any information. 

In fact, when questioned earlier by the police commander whether his religion might stand in the way of his pursuing the murderers if they turn out to be Jewish, Ariel is offended.  “I’m first and foremost a police officer, second a Finn, and only third a Jew.”

Nights of Awe is an excellent read, particularly because of its glimpse into a little-known pocket of the Jewish world.  Ariel, Eli, and their uncle Dennis are vivid characters, and their thoughts and motives ring true.  The plot of Nights of Awe is a bit convoluted and the number of those murdered is perhaps excessively high, but the novel is well worth reading and thinking about.   

There are several sites about Harri Nykänen on the web, although there is not one dedicated exclusively to him.  You can read more about him at this web site.

Check out the complete Marilyn’s Mystery Reads at her web site.