Review: THE WINTER OF THE LIONS by Jan Costin Wagner

THE WINTER OF THE LIONS is a peculiar book.

On one level it is a police procedural in which Finnish police seek to work out who killed a pathologist then a puppet maker then attempted to kill the television personality who had once interviewed both men on his highly rated chat show. But it’s hard to imagine any police force in the world operating as this one does, with little actual police work being done. Instead the lead investigator, one Kimmo Joentaa, makes a random, I might even suggest far-fetched, guess about the probable motive for the crime and proceeds to narrow down the pool of suspects his guess leads to in a fairly haphazard and not terribly successful manner (given that the culprit eventually shows up on their own virtually shouting “look at me over here, I’m the one”). So the book isn’t recommended for people who like their crime fiction to involve puzzles solved in a linear fashion with oodles of evidence.

That said, I enjoyed it a lot.

Part of that enjoyment invariably stems from the fact it didn’t tread the familiar path of a million police procedurals before it. I really do like authors who take interesting risks with the genre’s tropes, even if they’re not always successful. And there’s no doubt I was hooked by Kimmo’s approach to the case and was never not desperate to know who the culprit was and whether or not they would be found before more deaths occurred (something that never felt like a sure thing).

The characters are very strong too, though they do generally conform to the melancholic  stereotype associated with Scandinavian crime fiction. In fact Kimmo Joentaa could have been the prototype of the lonesome, introspective detective on which all others are based. His wife died some years ago and he is clearly still coming to grips with that, a fact borne out I think by his becoming somewhat bizarrely and immediately attached to a woman whose name he doesn’t even know. But perhaps my thinking this relationship an odd one says more about me than it does about Kimmo. Either way it added intrigue to the book.

We also meet the murderer fairly on in the book; though we don’t know who it is we know it is someone who has been involved in a tragedy and lost someone close to them. I’m normally not much of a fan of ‘seen through the eyes of the killer’ scenarios but here it was not sensational and offered some insight into how people cope (or don’t) with the traumas they experience. In fact the entire book could be looked at as a treatise on this subject, with Kimmo still suffering from his wife’s death and then losing his friend the pathologist who was killed at the outset of this book. And the television star who is the subject of the attempted murder is also a study in the kind of mental impact such a thing might have on a person.

Perhaps I was just in the right mood for peculiar (and cold, I did enjoy all that snow as I read the book during our sweltering summer) but I enjoyed THE WINTER OF THE LIONS more than I thought I might based on some of the reviews I read. Things surreal are not normally my cup of team but this one was just ‘normal’ enough to have me lapping it up and planning to go back and read the earlier books in the series (now that I have committed the cardinal sin of reading out of order).

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THE WINTER OF THE LIONS has been reviewed at Crime PiecesEuro CrimeInternational Noir Fiction and Mrs Peabody Investigates

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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Anthea Bell (from German)
Publisher Harvill Secker [2011]
ISBN/ASIN 9781846553462
Length 268
Format paperback
Book Series #3 in Kimmo Joentaa series
Source Borrowed from library
Creative Commons Licence
This work by http://reactionstoreading.com is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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9 Responses to Review: THE WINTER OF THE LIONS by Jan Costin Wagner

  1. Sarah says:

    I think you can easily read this writer out of order Bernadette. I like his books mainly because he does somehting a little bit different, I also like the fact his books are short and writing beautifully sparse. I thought the sexual relationship a bit odd in this book too – I think it’s meant to shock and I was slightly shocked I have to admit.

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    • I like to think myself fairly blase about that kind of thing Sarah but I must admit to a voice in my head saying things like “you’re a cop and you’ve let an unknown hooker into your home, this can only end badly buddy”

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  2. Bernadette – An excellent review as ever. I’m normally not one for the almost-surreal in novels, but it can be done well, and I’m glad it worked in this case for you. I’ve actually been wondering whether I’ll read this; I thought Silence was a good read. I just might give this one a go.

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  3. Kathy D. says:

    I was reading along getting interested in the book until I hit the word “surreal.” Of course, if I can deal with Serbian vampire dynasties in Fred Vargas’ latest book, and with a ghost in Asa Larsson’s latest, I can face “surreal” plot twists.

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  4. Maxine says:

    I liked this book though it was kind of weird, your review, particularly the first paragraph, is spot-on. It has an ethereal quality that makes you forgive some of the impracticalities of the plot. I would recommend reading Ice Moon first – it is short, and I enjoyed it most of the three books that have been translated. It’s a very poignant potrayal of grief. The middle book, Silence, does not have to be read in any particular order, it seems a bit separate from 1 and 3 though some of the characters are the same.

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  5. Belle Wong says:

    I am very very fond of the puzzle-type police procedural, but I do like mystery writers taking risks, too. The Winter of Lions sounds interesting.

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