It 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.
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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]
Length 301 pages
Book Series #2 in the Anna Fekete series
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