Friday, April 19, 2019

Review of Evil Things by Katja Ivar (2019, Bitter Lemon Press)

East Finland, 1952. The first female member of the Helsinki murder squad, Hella Mauzer, has been transferred to Lapland for being ‘too emotional’ (shorthand for ‘being a woman’). Her new boss is also a chauvinist, and the inspector is lazy and likes to borrow things from her office. When a village reports an elderly resident missing Hella wants to investigate but her boss is reluctant to let her, arguing that he probably just got lost in the forest. Getting her way, she travels on a logging truck the forty miles into the forest, taking up residence with an Orthodox priest, his wife, and the grandson of the missing man. Some of the villagers are reluctant to help, but others aid the search, turning up the head and ribs of a blond woman, killed by a shot to the temple. Hella continues to work away at the case, but makes little progress. In the meantime her boss has stepped up his efforts to recall her to base. Hella, however, is stubborn, abrasive and determined to discover the truth.

Evil Things is a police procedural set in Lapland in 1952, close to the Soviet border. The story very much focuses on Hella Mauzer, a sharp-tongued, tough, smart woman who is prepared to tackle patriarchy in the police and the misogynistic behaviour of her colleagues and public. Regardless, it’s a difficult job being the first female detective in a country where the woman’s place is considered the home. She’s been transferred from the Helinski murder squad to a small regional police station. When an elderly man disappears in the forest surrounding his village she insists on investigating, despite the wishes of her boss. She quickly uncovers the remains of a middle-aged woman. The locals are clearly holding back information and she has to work hard to unearth clues. Ivar does a nice job at recreating the claustrophobic conditions of the small village heading into winter. There's a relatively small cast, with the local priest’s wife cast as Hella’s opposite: the dutiful, loyal housewife. The star of the book is undoubtedly, Hella, a feisty, uncompromising character, who rubs people up the wrong way even when she’s trying to be careful. She a wonderful creation. The story itself unfolds at a sedate pace, but has enough intrigue to keep the pages turning. It starts to unravel a bit towards the end, changing tempo and style, skipping forward and becoming more sketchy, whereas the majority is meticulously plotted and paced. And the denouement is a little far-fetched, not in the conspiracy but the unfolding. Nonetheless, Evil Things is an enjoyable read, elevated by a strong lead character.

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