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      KATJA IVAR: EVIL THINGS.       

Price: £8.99 

Bitter Lemon Press

         

1952 Finland had a lot of snow, much empty and bleak countryside and lots of men in authority.  In Evil Things, Hella Mauzer is the first female Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit.  Having a policeman as a father may have helped.  Mauzer is a singular hero.  She not only carries the burden of being a female pioneer but also has plenty of interesting baggage.  One of her cases ended in multiple deaths, and she has experienced family tragedy.  Mauzer is now compromised by bosses who prefer to close files rather than investigate crime.  The ex-lover that she remembers had one particular flaw.  He was married.  If that is not enough to make her exceptional, she must be the only person on the planet who prefers Perry Como to Frank Sinatra.  Perry, though, did make a great record called Dream On Little Dreamer, and having dreams is important to an isolated female detective like Hella Mauzer, more important than she perhaps realises.

The crime that has to be investigated by Mauzer is unusual for Nordic Noir.  It is a consequence of callous utilitarian intent and neglect rather than the contrived twisted evil that so often mars Nordic crime fiction.  Although there is a breathless climax to Evil Things, the pace and plotting are measured and patient.  This leaves enough space for detailed characterisation.  The style, tempo and concerns of the author Ktjar Ivar evoke the thrillers of the great American writer Patricia Highsmith.  Ivar does not cheat.  She lines up the suspects, and each is different and interesting.  The arbitrary shocks that dominate Nordic Noir are replaced by satisfying surprises.  Evil Things is held together tightly by a relationship between two very different women, the independent and rebellious Mauzer and Irja the supposedly settled wife of the local priest.  By the time the reader has finished Evil Things he or she will appreciate what the two women have in common.  Within the book there is an interesting debate on the existence of free will, and the actions of all the characters are dependent on their attitudes to free will and responsibility. 

Evil Things benefits from a splendid sense of time, landscape and weather.  When the characters are able to brush the snow and ice from their clothes and eat the Finnish comfort food prepared by Irja, we feel relieved for them.  If the people in Evil Things are complex and all have their secrets, their lives are simple and reduced.  Food, warmth and modest luxuries like a Grundig radio for listening to Perry Como.  Survival is important.  The space between ordinary lives and two governments preoccupied with conflict and advantage stretches as far as the empty snow that reaches the Russian border.  It is that space and human weakness that facilitates the abuse Hella is obliged to confront. 

At one point her Chief Inspector says, ‘My dear girl, justice in a cold climate is not a natural phenomenon.  Snow is.’

The debate about free will is not only persistent, it echoes in the icy wind.

By Howard Jackson