It’s been a little over a year since the events in Snow Angels, the first book in the Inspector Kari Vaara series, and the time has not been kind to Kari. Though he was able to leverage his success in solving the Sufia Elmi murder to secure a transfer from remote Northern Finland to the capital city of Helsinki, he did so more for his American wife’s benefit than his own.
While she thrives as the manager of one of the poshest hotels in the country, Kari has been relegated to shifts on nights and weekends in the Homicide Department, and saddled with a young partner whose intelligence and enthusiasm far outpace his experience and discretion. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Kari has had insomnia and a lingering headache since the Sufia Elmi case ended, the headache having intensified into to a migraine that’s lasted for nearly three weeks straight at the point we join Kari at the start of Lucifer’s Tears.
Anxious to get home to his wife, Kate, who is pregnant and suffering from pre-eclampsia, Kari is annoyed when he and his partner are ordered by the Police Chief to respond to the scene of a murder even though they have technically gone off shift. His annoyance quickly turns to professional curiosity, however, upon viewing the gruesome scene that awaits them: a nude young woman, bound, tortured with cigarette burns, whipped viciously with a riding crop, and ultimately asphyxiated. The woman’s lover was found at the scene covered in blood, and the case seems open and shut. So why was Kari specifically called to investigate?
Kari begins to understand why when his efforts to question the dead woman’s husband are stonewalled by him, accompanied by a smug suggestion that Kari call his Police Chief if he has a problem. When the result of said call is a suggestion by the Chief that Kari charge the lover and be done with it, Kari only becomes more determined to find out exactly what the husband and his secretary, who looks disturbingly like the dead woman, are hiding.
Meanwhile another investigation, the outcome of which has also been suggested to him, is thrust into Kari’s lap. Germany is demanding extradition of Finnish war hero Arvid Lahtinen, alleging that he was a guard at Stalag 309 and was complicit with the Nazis in executing the camp’s inmates. The Minister of the Interior has instructed Kari to conduct a cursory investigation that concludes there is no substance to the allegations. Kari, however, is not too keen on being told how to conduct an investigation and pursues the matter seriously, if for no other reason than his deceased grandfather supposedly served with Arvid Lahtinen, so if Lahtinen is a war criminal does that mean Kari’s grandfather was as well?
In addition to the two main cases, a couple of smaller cases arise that add to Kari’s stress, as does a visit from Kate’s brother and sister from America which gives rise to some interesting culture clashes. No doubt about it, author Jim Thompson has put a lot on Kari Vaara’s plate in this outing, and the situations facing Kari in both his personal and professional lives are used by Thompson not just to develop Kari’s character, but to explore the mindset of an entire country. Along the way readers are treated to a taste of Finnish culture (the stoicism, inherent drinking, enjoyment of saunas, the maternity package all expectant mothers are given by the government), as well as a little bit of the country’s history, specifically a part that even most Finns are not aware of…and probably don’t want to be as it conflicts with their national identity with regard to Finland’s actions during World War II.
The change in setting from the remote Arctic Circle to downtown Helsinki has not muted Thompson’s masterful prose in the slightest. Rather, it has given him a new angle from which to present his protagonist, (adopted) country, and countrymen. The crimes explored are dark (be warned, there are graphic descriptions of both sex and violence), the collective mindset of the country stark, and in the midst of it all Kari struggles to find his way through to the promise of happiness he’s sure awaits him upon the birth of his daughter. Thompson, however, may have other plans in mind for Kari, as the book leaves both Kari and the reader to deal with two very interesting developments.
As he did so deftly in Snow Angels, with Lucifer’s Tears Thompson has once again transcended crime fiction, serving up a powerful story that speaks of so much more than murder.
Lucifer’s Tears will be released on March 17th from Putnam (ISBN: 978-0399157004).
Also, be sure to read Jim’s amazing guest post, “My Life Just Isn’t Anybody Else’s Business.”
Note: You don’t have to have read Snow Angels to enjoy Lucifer’s Tears, but the main case from Snow Angels is referenced several times throughout the book, including who the killer was, so just know that will be “spoiled” for you if you don’t read Snow Angels first. It is available in paperback though, so go ahead and pick up a copy.