Monday, August 1, 2016

Review of The Defenceless by Kati Hiekkapelto (Orenda Books, 2015)

Sammy, a Christian Pakistani refugee and drug addict, has been denied asylum in Finland.  Rather than be deported he goes on the run, sleeping rough and searching for his next fix.  Unwittingly, he is visiting a drug dealer when an elderly neighbour complaining about loud music is accidentally killed.  To cover their tracks the pair dump the body on an icy road where a distracted Hungarian au pair runs over the corpse.  Anna Fekete, herself a refugee from the former Yugoslavia and now a police officer, is part of the team investigating the old man’s death, which is initially assumed to be a case of dangerous driving.  Fekete already feels somewhat out of place in her adopted country, but the case heightens those sentiments.  Meanwhile a patch of blood-stained snow has been found in some woods and two drug gangs, one consisting of disaffected immigrants, are fighting for control of supplying the city.  Both Fekete and her racist, anti-immigrant colleague, Esko, have their hands full dealing with cases strongly linked to immigration.

The Defenseless, the second book in the Anna Fekete series, is set in a northern Finnish city at the tail end of winter.  The tale is very much a part of the Scandinavian tradition of social realist crime fiction, focusing on the themes of immigration, identity, dislocation and family, and on drug gangs and rivalries, and their interrelationship.  The story follows three intertwined trajectories: Sammy, a Pakistani Christian and drug addict who fled his home country in fear and does not want to be sent back to certain death; Fekete, an immigrant from Yugoslavia with Hungarian roots who is now a police officer but is somewhat listless and homesick; and Esko, a racist police officer who is struggling with his health.  The plot centres on the death of an elderly man and his missing neighbour, and a battle between rival drug gangs that Sammy has stumbled into and Fekete and Esko are investigating.  Hiekkapelto nicely explores the core themes and the lives of immigrants in Finland.  The plot is engaging and there is an interesting twist in its tail, though the ending seemed to fizzle out somewhat, with weak resolutions to a couple of strands.  Nonetheless, a nicely told socially realist police procedural.

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