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       KATJA IVAR: DEEP AS DEATH.       

BITTER LEMON PRESS

£8.99

11 June 2020

          

There are plenty of surprises in Deep As Death the second novel to feature the independent Finnish detective Hella Mauzer.  The least significant is that back in 1953 and before Elvis Presley had appeared the Finns were listening to a form of American music they called rock and roll.  This sounds suspicious but as author Katja Iva also remembers the great Les Paul and Mary Ford she can be given the benefit of the doubt.   More important are the compelling twists and turns in the plot of Deep As Death.  Author Iva likes to indulge in suspending answers to important questions.  Sometimes we have to wait for a few sentences.  On other occasions the reply comes a paragraph later.  It all adds to the tension. 

The surprises, though, that have impact in the novel are not related to specific clues or details but the characters.  Each of them refuse to be what we expect.  Author Katja Iva not only reveals the hidden identity of the chap who is drowning prostitutes in the sea and lakes of Helsinki, she challenges the assumptions we make about him and everyone else.  If this is a truth that the hero Hella Mauzer is obliged to face, she will have company that will include more than a few readers.

Deep As Death has almost 70 chapters, 300 pages and two separate narrators.   Two narrators will be an irritant for some readers because our brains can be slow to slip between identities.   In Deep As Death the technique is justified.  Initially it looks like a device for ensuring that the plot will dovetail two random crimes but by the time the book is finished we realise that the ambition of Katja Ivar is much more serious.  It all goes back to the characters and their secrets, their hidden potential and doubts.  Thanks to the short chapters and direct story telling Deep As Death rattles along.  Even in an age of reduced attention span Deep As Death qualifies as a genuine page turner.

The hero Hella Mauzer is an independent female spirit but Deep As Death is not an unforgiving feminist tract.  The sympathy for men may be mixed but the key female characters are far from idealised and that includes hero Mauzer.  She can, though, be relied upon to challenge authority.  Mauzer refuses to flatter male egos, which is why she operates as a private eye in Helsinki.  In the previous novel Evil Things by Katja Ivar the same hero battled bosses in the cold empty provinces.  This time Mauzer roams the snow lined urban streets of the capital.  Wherever she is there is conflict and, as Mauzer realises, sometimes she makes impulsive mistakes.  Mauzer is not a female version of Philip Marlowe, an aloof hero operating above the abyss.  Like everyone else, Mauzer has to live with compromises.  What she finds most difficult is, of course, understanding the people around her.  To say more would reveal too much of the plot.  The best way to find out what really happened one night in Helksink in 1953 is to read the book and flick through those 70 chapters.

 
By Howard Jackson