Priest of Evil is a wonderful crime book, a police procedural with a twist really, that has been nominated for the prestigious Glass Key award. Matti Joensuu is Finland's most distinguished and popular crime writer. He is still working as a policeman after more than thirty years. This book marks the return of Joensuu to writing after a ten-year gap. And, of, course, the return of Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki police Violent Crimes unit, the main character in Joensuu’s books, as well.
The center stage in the book is occupied by a fantastical priest - the Priest of Evil - who brainwashes teenagers into carrying bomb-filled backpacks. While investigating a young man's apparent suicide in a Helsinki subway station, Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit is baffled by the apparent lack of witnesses or evidence. And after several bizarre deaths at Helsinki tube stations, there are very few clues. Yet a pattern is discernable. Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpaa of the Helsinki Violent Crimes Unit has to admit to himself that there is a serial killer at work, and that his opponent is a very dangerous and devious person.
And, as we as readers learn, right in the middle of Helsinki, in the invisible mountain called the Brocken, in the bowels of the underground train system, a man who calls himself an Earth Spirit lives. He has a vision to destroy the world. He has, in his own eyes, the right to watch, pass judgment, and execute as well.
Matti Joensuu is a grand master of crime fiction. He writes and weaves it like dark fairytales, with rich atmospheric and psychologically penetrating mysteries. And Priest of Evil is a book that really shows his skill and ingenuity. But be warned – this is an emotionally tough book to read. The ending especially is very tough. But Priest of Evil is exciting, somewhat exotic, rich, deep and, as well, a book that will touch you and linger with you for a while.
Finnish crime writers
Crime fiction is very popular in Finland and has been for many years. It has been written in Finnish for almost one hundred years. Already Aleksis Kivi, in the classic, The Seven Brothers (1870), had a closing chapter with a locked room mystery. However, the first real writer of the Finnish language mystery was Rudolf Richard Ruth (a private detective who also served time for blackmail) who published several mystery volumes in 1910-40. Like many great Finnish writers, he has never been translated into English.
During the last decades the popularity of crime books has grown steadily and now about 40 to 50 crime novels are published annually. Typical of Finnish crime fiction is that a police officer is the main character and that the writing style is realist.
One of the most popular and best-known of contemporary Finnish crime writers is Matti Joensuu, who is also internationally well known. Joensuu has won the Finnish annual crime fiction award, The Clue of the Year, three times. Leena Lehtolainen is a close second in popularity. Leena Lehtolainen started writing about female police officer Maria Kallio in the early nineties. She writes feminist crime fiction with a strong female hero. And - Tove Jansson also writes crime fiction, very good crime fiction even.
The most well known Finnish crime writers include Aarne Haapakoski, Paul-Erik Haataja, Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Seppo Sakari Jokinen, Tauno Karilas, Pentti Kirstila, Heimo Lampi, Leena Lehtolainen, Martti Löfberg, Reijo Mäki, Harri Nykanen, Ilkka Remes, Mauri Sariola, Jarkko Sipila, and Kjell Westö.
However, few of these have so far been translated in English. The ones I know about are Matti Yrjänä Joensuu, Seppo Jokinen, Heimo Lampi, Harri Nykanen, Mauri Sariola, Jarkko Sipila and Kjell Westö. Leena Lehtolainen, who is very popular in Finland, has so far only been translated into German.
See also the excellent overview of Finnish crime fiction at Demko's Landscapes of Crime and Contemporary Finnish Crime Fiction by Paula Arvas in Mystery Readers Journal. Finnish crime fiction – wasting an opportunity? is an interesting article too.
To Steal Her Love, by Matti Joensuu
Matti Joensuu is a best-selling Finnish crime fiction author, probably the most popular crime writer in Finland. He has for most of his life worked as an arson and explosives expert with the Helsinki police. This is his tenth novel featuring Detective Sergeant Timo Harjunpää of the Helsinki force, and the third translated into English.
The detective in his books is DS Timo Harjunpää. In To Steal Her Love he is plagued by strife at home and at work. This detective may well be a relative of Kurt Wallander and inspector Van Veeteren – he has some similar features. Like many Scandinavian policemen, Harjunpää is so angst-ridden that even seemingly simple things - like washing his hands -remind him how unhappy he is: “There was something other than just talcum powder that needed to be removed from his hands, from himself, his life.” And, as well, and even though he is a married man, he has some kind of a mid-life crisis, and he is now in love with his colleague Onerva.
In this book he is up against a tormented young lock-picker and nocturnal sneak known as "Tweety". This somewhat mentally disturbed man breaks into young women’s homes and fondles them while they sleep. Numerous women have awakened to an unknown presence in their bedrooms. But nothing has been stolen or destroyed.
Joensuu’s writing is wonderful. A little laid back, at times a little dark and gloomy, and really excellent on the detective work. To Steal Her Love is a terrific police procedural. And exciting and interesting as well.