Against the Wall, by Jarkko Sipila
Finnish journalist and author. He has written 11 crime novels since his debut 1996. His protagonist is Lieutenant Detective Kari Takamaki, chief of the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit.
Takamaki, unlike most Finnish fictional police characters, is not a boozing wildcat, but the ultimate professional who directs his team to track down criminals in an organized fashion. He is also a family man who strives to spend any extra time with his family, sometimes to no avail.
Jarkko Sipila is a Finnish journalist / author, and one of the most read crime fiction authors in Finland. He is 45 years old. He has been reporting Finnish crime news for MTV3 TV News and the Helsingin Sanomat newspaper for almost 20 years. He has written 11 crime novels. Some of his books have been translated into German, but this is the first translated into English. Against the Wall (Finnish title Vasten seinää) - the 2009 Winner of the Best Finnish Crime Novel, the Clue Award - has been translated excellently by Peter Ylitalo Leppa. The language used flows nicely and underscores the style of the novel. The sentences are short and to the point.
Sipila's style is somewhat noir and hard boiled. His writing is direct with little commentary. He has good knowledge about modern police methods and the stresses of police work.
The main character in Sipila’s books is Lieutenant Detective Kari Takamäki. He is the head of the Helsinki Police Violent Crimes Unit. He is professional and team oriented in his work. In this book, most of the police work is done by on e of his team members, the undercover policeman Suhonen, who goes undercover using the name Suikkanen and posing as a hardened criminal.
The action in the book starts immediately. A man is killed by a hitman. Later, in an abandoned house in Northern Helsinki, his dead body is found in the garage by the police. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamäki’s homicide team gets the case from a snitch that reports it to Suhonen. The case has all the markings of a professional hit. Even so, some traces are found at the murder site. And clearly the police informant knows more than he has told the police.
The book describes a hard and tough underworld in Finland, with organized crime, gangs, and connections to the Russian underground. The story moves in a world of gangsters, prisons, snitches, corrupt officials, undercover police and hardworking detectives.
Against the Wall is very well plotted. It is written is a slow-moving and direct style. Pieces of the puzzle and the larger plot become visible gradually, and this serves to build the excitement towards a plausible and interesting ending. As well, the characters, while not being fully drawn, are realistic and very interesting. I enjoyed reading it, and strongly recommend it.
Vengeance, by Jarkko Sipila
This is the second book in the Helsinki Homicide series by Finnish author Jarkko Sipila that has been translated into English. The previous book, Against the Wall, was the winner of the 2009 Best Finnish Crime Novel award. In Vengeance, the dark story from the violent underbelly of Helsinki continues more or less where it ended in Against the Wall.
Suhonen, the undercover detective who runs surveillance of the criminals and the crime gangs in Helsinki, by chance witnesses a meeting between one of the high ranking criminal operators and an unknown man. The meeting seems important, and Suhonen decides to track down the other man. He turns out to be a Russian gangster operating out of Lithuania, a man high up in a Russian gang there. Something is about to happen, but nobody seems to know exactly what.
At the same time, Tapani Larsson, the vice president of the violent and criminal motorcycle gang The Skulls walks out of prison after having finished his sentence. It was Suhonen, working undercover, who had placed him there. Now the president of the gang is behind bars as well, serving a life time sentence, and Larsson is the boss, controlling all the resources of the gang. He has big plans for expansion, and wants to rebuild the gang and restore it to its former glory after all their recent losses in their ongoing war with the police. But foremost in his mind is revenge. Vengeance. He is determined to take down Suhonen.
Suhonen and his colleagues in the Violent Crimes Unit led by Lieutenant Takamäki in the Helsinki Police do all they can to stem the tide of crime, but they are seriously understaffed. And when the situation provides them with an unexpected opportunity to insert an undercover agent into the headquarter of the Skulls – a snitch, a friend of Suhonen who is a very difficult tangle and can be used – they grab it. However, bad luck strikes them a severe blow when the undercover agent is seen meeting with Suhonen by someone who knows the value of such information. The undercover agent’s cover is blown, and the Skulls use that valuable piece of information to set a deadly trap.
Vengeance is a truly chilling and extremely dark crime fiction book – a real Helsinki noir. We meet drug addicts, snitches, ex-cons, gang members, gang bosses, drug couriers, and all sorts of people from the thriving, throbbing and ever expanding world of crime in Helsinki. We also meet the tired, disillusioned and overworked cops, whose resources are stretched far too thin.
I loved it. Vengeance is suspenseful, exciting, fast paced, and written in a crisp style, full of cynicism and dark humor. It simply doesn’t get any better than this. An excellent book, strongly recommended.
“A thrilling, captivating story.” - Helsingin Sanomat
“Guaranteed reading enjoyment.” - Pohjolan Sanomat
“Truly top-notch work.” - Kansan Uutiset
Nothing But The Truth, by Jarkko Sipila
Nothing But The Truth is the third book translated into English in the prize-winning crime fiction series Helsinki Homicide by Finnish writer Jarkko Sipila. Like the two previous books in the series, it focuses on the Violent Crimes Unit in the Helsinki Police. The key characters are Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamäki and the undercover detective Suhonen. Like the previous books, Nothing But The Truth too is a noir crime fiction novel, written in a relatively stark and direct style.
Outside an apartment building in Helsinki, a young cocaine dealer is gunned down. Detective Lieutenant Kari Takamäki and his homicide team move quickly and succeed in finding and arresting the shooter, a well known criminal named Esa Nyberg. So far so good. But Nyberg doesn’t talk – all he says is “No comment”. Even though they have the killer, Takamäki and his team want more: They want to know why the dealer was shot. And – in particular – they want to know who ordered the killing.
The Violent Crimes unit knows most of what there is to know about the criminal underworld in Helsinki. And they know Nyberg works with a very ruthless psychopath and crime boss named Risto Korpi. They suspect he is the man behind the execution. But pinning the crime on him will be difficult unless someone talks. But, as Takamäki know too well – Korpi and his men will not talk.
Then, after the police have issued a statement to the media and asked witnesses to the crime to step forward, a woman from a neighboring building – a lady with photographic memory - comes forward with an image of the getaway driver's face and the registration number of the car. All the pieces fall into place, and Korpi is arrested and brought to trial.
However, after testifying, the witness, Mari Lehtonen finds herself the target of an escalating spiral of threats. To protect her, the police whisk her away to a “safe house”. But staying there means that both Mari and her daughter must give up their ordinary lives – no job, no school, no shopping, and no freedom. Mari doesn’t want that. She is not a criminal, just a citizen doing her duty. Why should she be punished? Why should she be forced to give up her life? She moves out of the safe house with her daughter. The prize she now has to pay for her principles are high – threats, attempts at her life, threats directed at her daughter. As the threats mount, she is torn between her principles and her desire to keep her family safe. Is this all Finland can and will do for her? How much should an ordinary citizen sacrifice for the benefit of society as a whole?
This is a marvelous crime fiction novel and in my opinion the best so far from Jarkko Sipila. Its treatment of the relationship between the police and the media is superb and very entertaining. Also, like Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström’s Three Seconds – which pointed a critical finger at the use of police informants – Nothing But The Truth too raises a timely and very important question: What can be done to make certain that citizens that do their duty in the criminal justice system do not risk ruining their lives when they do so?
Moreover, the book not only raises important questions, it is also a very entertaining, suspenseful and excellently plotted crime fiction novel. The writing style is just right for the story, and the plot has all the twist and turns an excellent crime fiction novel should have, along with a delightful ending. I strongly recommend Nothing But The Truth – it’s dark, fascinating, important and delicious.