Some settings seem tailor-made for sinister plots. Mid-twentieth century Finland, as portrayed in Katja Ivar’s series debut Evil Things, is clearly one of them. The small towns near the Soviet border are economically and emotionally depressed; cold, dark, and wet; and full of people who definitely want to be left alone. It’s not the sort of place to welcome one of the country’s first woman detectives.
Prickly Hella Mauzer has been exiled to remote Finnish town for unclear but definitely sexist reasons. Every time she tries to do something more than the most boring police work, Hella is shut down. It’s only through clever manipulation that she gets a reluctant okay from her boss to investigate the disappearance of an old man in an even more remote village closer to the Soviet Border. The village priest’s wife had sent in a letter to the station, asking for someone to come out. Not only is a man missing, but his young grandson is without a guardian and has refused to ask questions about what happened.
Evil Things shifts between Hella’s perspective and that of the priest’s wife, Irja. Not only do we get a few clues and a few red herring to keep the plot ticking over, we also get to dive deeply into Hella and Irja’s psyches. Hella is angry at the pervasive demeaning sexism, so much so that she attempts to act brusque and matter of fact when what she wants to do is shake people until their teeth rattle until they admit that she’s right. Irja is quieter, but no less of a chameleon. While she’s attempting to be the perfect priest’s wife, Irja is hiding heartbreak over her own lost child and her subverted ambitions.
It’s fortunate that there is so much character development, at least for the protagonists, because the plot goes in weird directions as Hella investigates. I don’t exactly like it, because I really wanted the book to go in a more traditional, Scandi-noir direction instead of the thriller-ish direction it ultimately takes. If nothing else, I appreciated that character development and the author’s attention to detail in creating the tiny village where most of the action takes place.
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.