Author – Kati Hiekkapelto (translated by David Hackston)
Published – 2014 (2015 in translation)
Genre – Crime fiction
This is the second book in translation from Finnish author Kati Hiekkapelto in her crime fiction series featuring Senior Constable Anna Fekete.
If you take the definition that Nordic Noir “typically features dark storylines and bleak urban settings” and also “incorporate larger social issues into the narrative of police work” then The Defenceless is a perfect example. Through the investigation of a number of deaths which seemingly have no connection Hiekkapelto explores the issues of immigration and isolation, the treatment of the elderly, drugs, gangs, smuggling…
The police investigation initially concerns the death of an unidentified elderly man who has been run over on a deserted road by a Hungarian au pair. With no obvious evidence to suggest how he found his way to the site the investigation is making slow progress. Then elsewhere a bloody knife is discovered in the snow. At the same time there is concern that a new gang of criminals is trying to expand into the city and it’s Fekete’s colleague Esko who takes the lead on this, using an informant to try to track them down. But as all the investigations progress they become linked to a single apartment block.
The immigration issue is obviously a particularly topical one at the moment and it’s interesting that the book features both those who are obviously immigrants (a young man from Pakistan) as well as those who don’t outwardly appear to be different (Fekete herself is originally from Hungary, a survivor of the Serbo-Croatian war, she immigrated to Finland with her mother and brother when she was a child). This gives the author the opportunity to explore the issues around immigration from multiple points of view – from the young man who is battling against a drug addition and trying to claim asylum, to a young woman trying to blend in with her Finnish colleagues whilst struggling with the distance she is putting between herself and her family. The other side of the issue is explored through Fekete’s colleague Esko, close to retirement he is overtly racist (as well as being a drunk, a bully and sexist to boot) although he does have some moments where redemption seems possible.
I must also mention the translation, which is absolutely seamless, there wasn’t a moment when the writing reminded me that I was reading something which wasn’t originally written in English.
The Defenceless certainly has the melancholic feel that you would expect from Nordic crime fiction and while the plot seemed as if it was going to unfold simply, as Fekete and her colleagues brought the different threads together, it managed to hold more surprises.
Thank you to the publisher of the review copy. You can see another point of view on Vicky Newman’s blog.