Monday, April 11, 2011

With the current popularity of mystery novels set in northern Europe, you'd figure that one set in the snowy climes of Finland would be a surefire hit.  Well, not so fast.  The book Lucifer's Tears, by James Thompson, is the second to feature Inspector Kari Vaara.

The blurb on the back of the book states that James Thompson is "eastern Kentucky born and raised" and has lived in Finland for over 10 years.  He is married to a Finnish woman.  In this novel, the Finnish Inspector Vaara is married to Kate, an American.

Inspector Vaara is the requisite tortured and flawed policeman, although in this instance he really is tortured by extreme migraine headaches.  There are numerous times that his previous case is referred to in the book, and since I haven't read the earlier book, I'm a bit lost when it comes to the background.

In this book, Vaara and his unlikeable partner Milo are called out to a particularly brutal crime scene.  A married woman has been found beaten to death (and Thompson really relishes giving us the gory, vivid details) in her lover's apartment.  The lover was present during the murder, but claims he was attacked and unconscious while the woman was killed.  The husband, a Russian businessman, becomes a suspect, especially when it becomes apparent that he's also having an affair with a woman who is nearly a twin of his dead wife.

Vaara is also directed by his boss to investigate a Finnish national hero from WWII for possible war crimes.  The situation becomes personal for Vaara when he discovers that the war hero served alongside his beloved late grandfather.  If the war hero was guilty of war crimes, that so was dear old granddad.

To complicate matters, Vaara and his wife Kate are expecting their first child at any time.  Kate has previously lost twins, so the couple is anxious that nothing go wrong this time.  Kate's younger brother and sister come to stay with them on the pretext that they are going to "help out" once the baby is born.  The brother is a drunken troublemaker and the sister a judgemental religious fundamentalist. 

The situation of the WWII war criminal and the two American outsiders exist solely so that Thompson can lecture the reader on: a) Finland's involvement in WWII on the side of the Nazis (who victimized them as much as the hated Russians); and b) Finland's superior (to the US) social welfare society.  There are long, preachy passages that are meant to enlighten the reader, but the author is assuming that the reader has an interest in the subject (I really didn't, and my husband is half Finnish!).  Note to author: Tell the story, we don't need a history/civics lesson!

I also found the language to be unnecessarily crude.  The "f-word" loses its intended impact when it's used 5 times in the same paragraph.  Adding "-wad" or "-wit" or other suffixes to it don't make it a new word!

And what was with the hostility toward Mensa?  He has two characters who supposedly are members --  both anti-social, deranged, drunken gun-nuts.  Membership application rejected or something???

So, no, I'll have to say I didn't enjoy this one.  The over-the-top unbelievable sex and violence scenes, the long, boring history lessons, and lack of any sympathetic characters have ensured that this visit to Inspector Vaara's Helsinki will be my last.

Final Verdict for Lucifer's Tears:  One Gherkin, for a passable story told in an unpleasant manner


James Thompson said...

Thank you for addressing me personally with advice on how to improve my writing skills. Obviously, your understanding of the craft of writing is honed to a keen edge. Is it possible that we could make an arrangement so that I could study under your guidance, in the hopes I could attain even a fraction of your wisdom? And please, please make a list of subjects not of interest to you. I wouldn't want to make the same mistake again. A list of acceptable subject matter would be most helpful. From this point forward, writing a book that meets with your approval, thus knowing that the student has absorbed the lessons of the master, will be my only goal in this life. Thank you for being the first person to tell me the truth about the dross that is my work. I didn't realize until now that the accolades and starred reviews I've received were nothing but a mere sham. You have my eternal gratitude. With profound thanks, James Thompson

Frank Lynch said...

I've read my fair share of police procedural novels and James Thompson's books reside at the top of my favorites list, along with Michael Connelly (who gave a huge thumbs up to "Snow Angels")and Peter Robinson. Unfortunately, homicide detectives face grisly scenes on a frequent basis. Therefore, based on reality, James' descriptions in the book lend credence to the story. I think the Vaara's past and his flaws show him as a real person and gives the reader insight as to what drives him to do his job the right way. I thought the book was fantastic and was a wonderful follow up to "Snow Angels" (not coming anywhere close to the "sophmore slump").

While I appreciate that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but I think your review suffers from you not having read the first Vaara novel. Most, if not all, of the other reviews I have read about any novelist who has a series, the review has actually read the previous books.

If you did not like James' novel, I would watch out and not read any of the novels by Arnaldur Indridason, Stieg Larsson, Henning Mankell, and Jo Nesbo -- you just might be equally offended and unappreciative of some fantastic writing.

Lisanne624 said...

Well, Henning Mankell is my absolute favorite crime writer, so I'll have to disagree with your suggestions! I did read all of the Larssen books as well, and I've seen the film based on Indridason's "Jar City." But I never could get into Nasbø books, that's true. The point is, it takes all kinds of books and writers, and everything isn't going appeal to every reader. I still remember my horror on finishing the monstrosity that was "The Hotel New Hampshire" after falling in love with the masterpiece of "Garp."

But the whole blogging thing is a platform for everyone's own opinion, so some are going to agree, and others not. Oh well, that's life!

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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