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.
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My rating 3.5/5
Translator Kristian London
Publisher Bitter Lemon Press 
Length 252 pages
Book Series #1 in Ariel Kafka series
Source I bought it
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