THE HUMMINGBIRD opens by introducing us to Anna Fekete experiencing the first day on her new job as a senior detective in an unnamed town in northern Finland. Initially expecting to ease into her new role instead she must get up to speed suddenly when a young girl’s call to emergency services appears very troubling and then the body of a jogger is found. These two cases, which rarely for crime fiction do not become linked over time, come to haunt the members of the Crime Unit in various ways.
Although very much a procedural novel THE HUMMINGBIRD is at least as interested in its characters as it is in solving the crimes committed within it. And as the centrepiece of the investigative team Anna makes for interesting reading. She is a lifelong outsider. As a child she was part of a minority population – a Hungarian in the former Yugoslavia – and when she moved with her family to Finland she was an immigrant. Even now, despite her having lived in the country since she was seven and served with the Finish military, her immigrant status is the most significant thing about her for many people, even those who view it as a positive thing. Anna’s sense of isolation is depicted very credibly, manifesting itself in numerous ways. Although this theme is not a new one for fiction to explore I thought Hiekkapelto did an above average job of letting the reader really get a sense of what a grind it must be to always feel as if you don’t quite belong.
One of her new colleagues, a middle-aged policeman named Esko, does not attempt to hide his racism from the moment they first meet. This is not an auspicious beginning to a relationship and I was a little wary that it would tread a very predictable path but ultimately it proves to be a highlight of the book when it veers away from the norm. It is certainly a very believable depiction of this kind of tension that is repeated the world over. The team is rounded out by two more colleagues, both of whom are a lot more sympathetic towards Anna and add interesting elements of the story in their own right. Sari is the policewoman who appears to ‘have it all’ – a loving husband and two children on top of the great job – while their male colleague Rauno is struggling to keep his own marriage intact.
Hiekkapelto does not forget to develop a decent plot and the crimes here are both complex; requiring a good deal of investigative shoe leather. Anna becomes somewhat fixated on the case of Bihar: the young Kurdish girl who rang emergency services claiming her father was going to kill her then recanted when police visited the house. Although told to leave the matter alone due to lack of evidence she is convinced that something is wrong and uses what free time she has to keep an eye on the family. It’s not much of a stretch to see that she identifies with Bihar on some level which makes her fixation entirely understandable. Meanwhile the case of the murdered runner proves a difficult one for the team and a couple more bodies have to pile up before there is a satisfactory resolution. n some ways this main plot thread was the least interesting part of the book for me but only because the rest of it was so good.
There are a few wooly elements to this debut novel – such as the unnecessary inclusion of a minor thread in which both Anna and Sari are threatened by mysterious texts – but overall I thoroughly enjoyed meeting Anna and the rest of the team. I liked the way that this was allowed to be a character driven novel that still had a strong plot and explored some interesting themes such as what seems to be a thorny issue in all countries: immigration. I am already looking forward to the next installment of the series which is due to be translated into English this year.
♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator David Hackston
Publisher Arcadia Books [this translation 2014]
Length 363 pages
Book Series #1 in the Anna Fekete series
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