Get Blog Posts Via Email

View RSS Feed


Posts Tagged ‘Lapland’

SNOW ANGELS by James Thompson: Book Review

Snow Angels is the first in a new series by James Thompson, an American author who has been living in Finland for many years.  I must confess to having a strong desire to visit Lapland, the northernmost part of Finland, where this mystery is set.  This is despite the fact that during kaamos, the polar night, it’s totally dark for months at a time and the temperature can fall to -50 degrees Celsius, and my favorite season is summer.  The only reason I can give to explain my fascination with the country is that I did a report on Lapland during my elementary school days.  Somehow the foreignness of the place has always stayed with me.

So of course I thoroughly enjoyed reading Snow Angels.   The story takes place during the above-mentioned kaamos, right before Christmas.  Police detective Kari Vaara is called to the scene of the murder of a Somali movie actress who has been living in Lapland. A racial epithet is carved into the stomach of the actress, leaving little doubt of the racial hatred that was at least part of the motive for her death.  When Somali immigrants first came to Finland in the 1990’s, there was a lot of good feeling among the Finns; they saw themselves as welcoming a band of people fleeing a murderous country.  But, as Vaara notes, racial intolerance soon reared its ugly head, as the hard-drinking Finns began to distrust the alcohol-abstaining Muslims and resent the government aid they received.

Looking into the private life of the actress, the police learn that she has been intimate with more than one man, including the lover of Vaara’s first wife.  Is it her adultery that got Sufia killed or is it a racially motivated murder?

Vaara is also dealing with the emotional upheavals of his second wife, an American who fell in love with Lapland during the summer but now is having problems living in a land where the sun doesn’t rise for weeks at a time and the language and customs are so different from what she is used to in America.  Plus there’s the not-so-subtle political pressure of the police commissioner who can’t decide which will be more detrimental to the country’s image now that the crime is receiving international attention–leaving Vaara on the case or removing him.

There’s a lot of Lapland lore in this novel, probably written to explain a culture quite unfamiliar to many readers.   Did you know that ninety-five percent of murders in Lapland are solved?  That the sami (the preferred name for natives of Lapland, as Lapps is somewhat derogatory) rarely call each other by name?  That the usual gift for a child confirmed in the Lutheran Church (to which nearly all Finns belong) a generation ago was a set of dentures because by the time of their confirmations, most teenagers had lost their adult teeth due to nonexistent dental care?

There’s a lot going on in this novel–past and present wives, sexual encounters, political pressures, racial bigotry, rampant alcoholism, and more.   Sometimes it’s a bit overwhelming and a bit over the top.   Could so much be going on in such a small community?  But Thompson pulls it off.  His writing style is enjoyable, and he keeps you turning the pages.  All in all, you’ll want to read the novel to get a glimpse of this land touching the Arctic Circle.  And, like me, you’ll be waiting for another visit to northern Finland.

You can learn more about James Thompson at the Penguin web site.