Review: NIGHTS OF AWE by Harri Nykänen

In Helsinki the bodies of two Arab men are found, one presumably tortured before being shot and the other having fallen or been pushed from a bridge onto railway tracks. Detective Ariel Kafka of the Violent Crimes Unit, and one of only two Jewish policemen in Finland, is the lead investigator. The bodies are quickly identified and at first police wonder if the crimes are race related but, as more bodies start piling up and the security forces start poking their noses in where Kafka doesn’t want them, consideration turns to a possible terrorist attack being planned for Helsinki. Then again it could be a drug thing!

I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Ariel Kafka who is around 40, single and, mostly, unobservant of his religion’s traditions and rules. Refreshingly he is not a maverick, a loner or an alcoholic and yet he still manages to be interesting. He does have a family tragedy in his past but it does not cripple him and he rubs along well enough with his older brother while having a quite lovely relationship with his uncle. His working relationships are not beset by conflict either. He manages to get on with most of his superiors, even acknowledging the political fallout they try to save him from, and his colleagues are generally energetic and competent, though one is more interested in his hobby than his work but even he manages to help track down a vital piece of evidence when it really matters. Kafka can be a bit acerbic but his dry humour is a nice counter balance and overall he is the sort of character I can imagine as a real-world policeman which is not something I often think about fictional detectives.

The plot was a less successful element of the book for me, feeling a bit more like a Hollywood thriller script than a considered work of crime fiction. The speed with which conspiracy theories were dreamt up, bought into and abandoned in favour of a new one wasn’t really convincing. And when combined with the alarming body count (eight I think by the end of the book) I did start to roll my eyes a bit. For me the fact of Kafka’s Jewishness and the setting of the book during the ten-day period between two of the most important Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, was enough to give the book the unique flavour I suspect the author was aiming for. Adding a thread about Mossad agents working in-country was a little over the top (most Jewish people I know seem to manage to get through entire days, weeks even, without encountering a single reference to the famed Agency so it kind of bugs me when every fictional Jew runs across at least one agent before breakfast).

However there is enough promise in this series opener for me to be keen to read the next instalment should there be one. The protagonist offers scope for genuinely interesting character development and there is evidence that Nykänen has the capacity to explore social themes in an intelligent way, even if in this book such exploration got a bit lost at times amidst the overly convoluted plot. For example Nykänen tackles the difficult issue of the way Israel and the broader Israeli/Palestinian conflict is perceived in Finland and Europe generally and he does so thoughtfully. NIGHTS OF AWE, a title with a clever double meaning, is a smoothly translated, smart, fast-paced read with enough depth that I could largely forgive the unnecessary ‘Hollywoodisation’ of the plot.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

NIGHTS OF AWE has been reviewed at Crime Scraps, Mrs Wordopolis Reads and The Crime Segments

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
My rating 3.5/5
Translator Kristian London
Publisher Bitter Lemon Press [2012]
ISBN 9781904738923
Length 252 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #1 in Ariel Kafka series
Source I bought it
Creative Commons Licence
This work by is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

This entry was posted in book review, Finland, Harri Nykänen. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Review: NIGHTS OF AWE by Harri Nykänen

  1. Maxine says:

    I pretty much agree with you about this book. I reviewed it recently for Euro Crime but my review isn’t out yet. I liked the character of Ariel a lot, but I did not like the plot which escalated into silliness/impossible convolutions. There was a murder that I found totally pointless (a later one, or maybe the last one) which only seemed to be there to have a murder. Yet there was an energy and verve to the whole that I liked. I think I wrote in my review that I’d like to read Ariel undertaking a more typical investigation (ie one that doesn’t use up 10 years of Finland’s homicide stats in one month). Incidentally, the author has written a popular series called Helsinki Homicide, about (duh! the homicide squad which is next door to Ariel’s unit. At the start of N of A, Ariel asks the head of the homicide squad for advice on finding out about Islamic religion in Finland. It is just a para, but I like it when series intersect like that. (About 3 of the Helsinki Homicide books have been translated by a small, independent US publisher, and are available in e-books which were not too expensive a year or so ago. The same publisher (Ice Cold Press I think it is called) also translates another Finnish crime author who writes the “Raid” series – I read one of those which was quite good & lots of humour about the Finnish attitudes to the Swedes.


  2. Maxine says:

    Sorry i forgot to close a couple of brackets – hope the above makes sense!


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – An excellent review as ever. I get really tired of those “too easy,” almost stereotypical character elements too, such as the whole Mossad thing. And the high body count and implausibility thing would probably make me roll my eyes too. But I am interested in Kafka’s character. What a pleasure to read about a detective who isn’t an alcoholic, doesn’t fight with his superiors about everything and doesn’t have a horribly dysfunctional family! He does sound like a promising character and just on that score I’ll probably read this one.


  4. I shall have a look for the other books thanks Maxine as I did like the writing style even if the plot was silly – I think I may have missed a body or two towards the end. I agree that it would be good to see Ariel take on a more routine investigation.


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  6. Kathy D. says:

    I thought the post was saying there were only two Jewish people in Finland, as I had no idea that there was even a Jewish population there. Gladly, I read upon checking this out that there are actually 1100 Jewish people living in that Nordic clime.
    Anyway, this review inspired me enough to look for it at the library, which has it! The administrators must have heard me channeling my frustration at the lack of global mysteries.
    The Mossad bit will annoy me, but I’ll read the book despite this plot device.


  7. Mrs P. says:

    Thanks for this wonderful review, Bernadette, which has now led me to purchase the novel. I’d had my eye on it for a while and couldn’t resist. By coincidence, I’ve been reading some Rabbi Small mysteries recently, so it’ll be interesting to compare and contrast.


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