Kati Hiekkapelto’s third novel to feature Finnish-Hungarian policewoman Anna Fekete is another of the titles on this year’s Petrona Award shortlist; the announcement of which was just the impetus I needed to catch up with the series. And though I have enjoyed its two predecessors very much I think THE EXILED is in a whole different class. It is an outstanding read.
Though I have travelled a reasonable amount I was born and have lived all my life on a giant island with naturally stable borders and politics. A very long way from everywhere else on the planet. Which helps, I hope, explain why places with more fluid and volatile geography and political situations are both fascinating and alien-seeming to me. Keeping up with events in such places via the news can be difficult as there’s an ‘other-worldiness’ that adds distance from my own day-to-day experiences. What good fiction, such as THE EXILED, can offer that factual reporting often lacks is a way to humanise the situations and make them, paradoxically, more realistic.
In this novel Hiekkapelto sends her heroine ‘home’. Or at least to the place she was born. The town of Kanisza was a Hungarian community in Yugoslavia when Anna and her family fled it in the 1990’s. Her mother and brother have returned to the town which is now part of Serbia and where those residents who only speak Hungarian need translators to carry out official business. Throughout the book there is a heartfelt and credible exploration of what constitutes ‘home’ for Anna and people like her who feel like outsiders no matter where they go. But the exiled people of the book’s title are even more clearly homeless. Focus in this story is on two groups of dispossessed souls: the streams of refugees fleeing the Middle East into Europe and the Roma people who have never felt welcome irrespective of how long an association they’ve had with a location.
Our entry into these worlds is, not surprisingly, via a crime. Though at least initially it’s a much more minor one that genre fans might be used to as Anna’s handbag is stolen while she is out with friends one night. When she reports the theft to the local police she learns that the thief was a young Romani man. And that he died soon after taking her bag. When Anna realises that the police do not seem interested in investigating the death she investigates on her own and begins to unravel links to an event in her own family’s past. It’s a very layered and compelling story about small town life and the damage we can do when we try to cover up a mistake.
Taking the series away from the familiar surroundings and characters is something of a risk but Hiekkapelto has provided enough of the ‘known’ to keep series fans happy as Anna catches up with her surviving family members and even maintains an email connection to one of her Finnish colleagues. Seeing a different aspect of Anna’s story as she reconnects with old friends and exposes greater depth in her relationships with her mother and brother makes her a more interesting character than ever for me.
I enjoyed the audio narration of the book but should report that Julie Maisey makes no effort to sound anything other than English. I prefer this to poor attempts at accents (if you could even work out what accents would be appropriate for this setting and its people of multiple heritage lines) but some commenters have remarked that it doesn’t feel right to them. However you read it, I would urge you to track down Kati Hiekkapelto’s THE EXILED which is topical, thoughtful and totally compelling. As a bonus it could easily be read as a standalone novel if you haven’t yet read the two earlier books in the series.
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Narrator Julie Maisey
Translator David Hackston
Publisher This edition Audible Studios 2016
Length 9 hours 29 minutes
Format audio (mp3)
Book Series #3 in the Anna Fekete series
Source of review copy I bought it