Nykanen, Harri – ‘Nights of Awe’ (translated by Kristian London)
Paperback: 278 pages (Feb. 2012) Publisher: Bitter Lemon Press ISBN: 1904738923
The ten days starting with Rosh Hashanah and ending with Yom Kippur are termed the Days of Awe, or the Days of Repentance. This is a time for individuals to consider the sins of the previous year and repent. Hence the English-language title of this book, the events of which take place during this period – but not always at night. (The book was called ARIEL when it was first published in Finnish in 2004.)
Ariel Kafka is an inspector in the violent crimes unit of the Helsinki police, so is called in when two men are attacked and killed at a busy train junction. With little to go on, Ari (as everyone calls him) is stymied until another two bodies are discovered at a repair garage. “Four bodies in one day was a lot”, thinks Ari with typical laconic understatement. Because the victims are all Arabic, the unpopular SUPO (security police) muscle in with theories of terrorism to explain the crimes. In a nod to the author’s other series, Helsinki Homicide, Ari consults Lt Tamanaki for some advice on how to proceed: Tamanaki refers him to the Islamic society, which provides useful background and context.
The pace of the narrative never lets up. Even more bodies are found. Ari rushes about pursuing a constellation of leads while SUPO continue to muddy the waters by not providing useful information to Ari but being suspiciously well-informed about the police investigation, always turning up one step behind Ari at each crime scene. Ari uncovers a possible Israeli connection: he is warned off by several of his well-connected extended family who are on the committee of the synagogue. Ari’s brother, who owns a law firm, puzzlingly wants to know more about the case than is released to the public, and Ari’s ex-girlfriend’s father, a failed furrier, is somehow involved with one of the later victims. SUPO piles on the pressure by suggesting that Mossad agents are trying to prevent an act of terrorism planned for the upcoming visit of Israel’s foreign minister. Ari, surely the best-connected detective in fiction (partly due to the smallness of Helsinki’s Jewish community), happens to have been the boyhood friend of someone who may be able to help him work out what is happening in this convoluted series of crimes and plethora of interested parties.
After a great first half, NIGHTS OF AWE suffers from being overcomplicated by too many conspiracy elements, and in having quite so many murdered corpses turning up – all crammed in to a short book. Ari is an intelligent, dynamic and determined investigator, whose relationship with his Jewish roots and extended family (secondary to his loyalty to the police and his country) provide interesting tensions. I hope to read more about him, but I also hope that his future cases are more local than this one.