Book covers


      Harri NYKÄNEN: HOLY CEREMONY.       

Price: £8.99 

Bitter Lemon Press


Holy Ceremony has a great beginning.  Within days Detective Lieutenant Ariel Kafka is called out to look at two possible murders.  The second time around he recognises a body that had previously been dispatched to the morgue and that he recognised from the first incident.  After that the plot gets complicated.  All is explained at the end of the book.  Perhaps the denouement is obliged to reveal too much in the final pages but before that there are glorious red herrings and blind alleys.  The extended explanation can be forgiven.  Indeed, the revelations should produce a satisfying smile on the face of the reader.

Jewish mystery fiction has an honourable tradition.  Finland, famous for its sparse language and minimal grammatical conjugation, is not the obvious place to expect a Jewish fictional detective.  Ariel Kafka the Jewish detective persists in what feels like investigative isolation.  This is the third book to feature the Detective.  Kafka is less involved in the events than he has been in previous books but the plot of Holy Ceremony is a cracker. 

Anti-Semitism occurs in Holy Ceremony.  The touch is light but the wounds on Kafka are registered.  It helps that the novel is written in the first person.  But author Harri Nykännen also knows how to prick a conscience.  The plot has fanciful elements that add to the entertainment yet the subject matter in Holy Ceremony is gritty and should suit modern tastes.  Holy Ceremony qualifies as Nordic Noir.  It is set in Finland, there is a reference to IKEA in the first chapter, and there are some respectable but unpleasant people doing things that too easily go unchallenged by the rest of us.  More than this the book has a real mystery and a genuine puzzle.  Holy Ceremony teases and provokes thought in the reader.  It avoids the pummelling and contrived cliffhangers that mar so many books in the Nordic Noir genre.

Detective Lieutenant Ariel Kafka is a character with similar appeal to Maigret.  If he is decent, steady and in his small apartment lives an ordinary life away from his police work, the less ordered world does not shock him.  He approaches the crimes and his suspects with an open-minded acceptance of the behaviour of human beings.  The subplot with the subordinate Oksanen would have appealed to Simenon and his sense of forgiveness and compassion. The red herrings do more than accumulate.  They add to the evidence of human failing and the difficulty of existence.  The sly digs at organised hierarchical religion and secret societies add to the subtle humour.  Wild boar hunting in Estonia feels like an exotic touch but, as it even exists in the UK, it serves as believable and sly characterisation. 

The developments in the plot are well timed and there are just enough connections to keep the reader curious.  It has been said many times that all crime is a consequence of a desire for money and sex.  Holy Ceremony is a satisfying read because in the book the connections between the two ambitions are often random.  The good news is that sympathetic but sceptical Detective Lieutenant Ariel Kafka knows how to join the dots.

By Howard Jackson