Review: THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto

DefencelessKatiHiekkapelto24737_fIt was written before last year’s migrant ‘crisis’ in Europe had news watchers transfixed but that just makes Kati Hiekkapelto appear to have excellent predictive skills in addition to her writing chops. Because I couldn’t help but think what an incredibly timely and topical book THE DEFENCELESS is (and that, Ian Rankin, is why I read crime fiction, not because I am fascinated by evil).

Only the second installment of a series set in northern Finland, the book tackles the subject of immigration from many angles and gives a strong indication that Hiekkapelto is set to walk in the footsteps of writers as diverse as Sjöwall and Wahlöö and Sara Paretsky who choose the crime genre as an overlay for incisive social commentary.

The first person we meet is Sammy; a young man who made his way into the country illegally because, as a Christian, his life was in danger when the Taliban took over his home. His plight, which plays out across the length of the novel, would, surely, make even the iciest heart melt a little as his choices narrow and his future becomes bleaker.

From another angle we watch a grizzled old (well old-ish I guess at 56) policeman tackle the brutalities of an immigrant gang working very hard to gain a foothold in the country as they have done elsewhere in Europe. Esko, the aforementioned policeman, is hard to like as he holds some confronting attitudes but nor can he be dismissed simply as a right-wing reactionary. Not all his views are questionable and even those which are do not stem from evil intent. In short, he is a complicated person, neither all right nor all wrong, just like most real humans and unlike almost everyone with a voice in modern media.

Anna Fekete is surely the poster girl for successful immigration; having arrived in the country as a child when her family had to flee what was Yugoslavia she has stayed on to serve first in the army and now as a policewoman. But she still has strong feelings of being outsider, especially as it looks as though she will be the last of her family to remain in her adoptive home. In this novel she investigates what appears, at first, to be a simple motor vehicle accident and through this is introduced to yet another kind of immigrant. The woman who ran over Vilho Karppinen is a young au pair in the country on a temporary visa, looking to have a bit of fun (and possibly snare a husband) and she soon irritates Anna. The investigation takes a more interesting turn though and exposes yet more sides to the immigration issue.

Unlike most of the so-called commentary I’ve caught concerning the world’s latest refugee crisis THE DEFENCELESS explores a tangential subject in all its complexity, requiring more than sound bites and hand-ringing if things are to improve. In fact it was probably grumpy, sometimes reprehensible Esko who comes closest to a single solution, even if the motivator for his thinking might have been a selfish one.

THE DEFENCELESS is probably a bit too grim to be called enjoyable but I found it a satisfying and thought-provoking read and a great way to kick off my year’s reading.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

I reviewed this novel’s predecessor, THE HUMMINGBIRD (and the review even got quoted in this successor’s publicity material, I’m still always chuffed when that happens).

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Translator David Hackston
Publisher Orenda Books [This edition 2015, original edition 2014]
ISBN 9781910633137
Length 301 pages
Format paperback
Book Series #2 in the Anna Fekete series

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6 Responses to Review: THE DEFENCELESS by Kati Hiekkapelto

  1. MarinaSofia says:

    My thoughts exactly on why I read crime fiction: it often provides a far more accurate (and certainly more enjoyable) picture of a culture, society and a time than even newspaper reports. But to be fair, Ian Rankin always includes a fair amount of social commentary in his books anyway, so it’s not just evil that preoccupies him or his readers.

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    • I know he does do that Marina Sofia…which is why that interview he gave in the Guardian (my link in the review) annoyed me so much. Of course he might have said much more and only had that bit quoted but it still rankled. I am easily rankled 🙂

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  2. Books like this may not be ‘enjoyable’ in the sense that they make you smile or laugh a lot. But this isn’t a funny subject, so I know just what you mean about it being a thoughtful, satisfying book. I think Marina Sofia’s right that sometimes, books give us a much more informed, broad perspective on a topic. They can explore all the issues, and still draw the reader in. And this is one of those topics that deserves that sort of treatment.

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  3. vicky blake says:

    Thank you, this looks fascinating. I’m a big fan of Paretsky and Sjowall and Wahloo so I think this will be right up my street.

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  4. kathy d. says:

    This sounds very good. Did you read the first book in this series, The Hummingbird? That was excellent. I’m looking forward to reading The Defenceless.
    Yes. This is why I read crime fiction, too, mostly, although I do like to zip through Montalbano’s escapades, too. Sara Paretsky is a favorite author. So is Donna Leon, who always include a social or political issue in her books set in Venice.

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  5. kathy d. says:

    I just finished The Defenceless. Heikkapelto is able to combine a good plot with developed protagonists, murders, and social issues without missing a beat. Now, this is a well-written book.
    When I think of what’s on the New York Times best-seller list, with people buying “The Girl on the Train,” and thinking it’s a good book — when this book and others like it are not known to the U.S. mystery readers and not readily available in bookstores and libraries — I alternate between anger and sadness.
    If only readers here could be informed about this book, Eva Dolan’s, Sarah Ward’s and so many more really good books in the mystery genre. OK, my speechifying is over for tonight.

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