Hella Mauzer was the first ever woman Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. But her superiors deemed her too ‘emotional’ for the job and had her reassigned. Now, two years later, she is working in Lapland for the Ivalo police department under Chief Inspector Järvi, a man more interested in criminal statistics and his social life than police work. They receive a letter from Irja Waltari, a priest’s wife from the village of Käärmela on the Soviet border, informing them of the disappearance of Erno Jokinen, a local. Hella jumps at the chance to investigate. Järvi does not think that a crime is involved. After all, people disappear all the time in the snows of Finland. When she arrives, Hella stays the village priest and his wife, who have taken in Erno’s grandson who refuses to tell anyone his grandfather’s secret. A body is then discovered in the forest and she realizes that she was right; a crime has been committed. A murder. But what Hella doesn’t know, is that the small village of Käärmela is harbouring another crime, a crime so evil, it is beyond anything any of them could have ever imagined.
Evil Things takes place in Finnish Lapland in 1952. I’m in complete ignorance about the history of the area but timelines and events are described throughout the book for helpful clarity and Google is my friend.
This is the first novel in the Hella Mauzer series and I’m really pleased that there will be more books from this author and more with Hella Mauzer as the leading character.
The background of the story is in the blurb above. What did I think of Hella Mauzer the protagonist? I didn’t know what to make of her at first. She’s troubled emotionally after the death of her family when she was a young girl. Her recent relationship with a married man ended badly and she’s in a difficult position as one of the first Finnish woman police officers. Hella faces a lot of internal opposition and intolerance to women in the Finnish police force but has a strong personality and doesn’t tolerate fools and there are plenty around her. The main one being her immediate superior Chief Inspector Lennart Eklund, a man of obsessive tidiness, keeper of immaculate files and dark secrets that are hidden in the locked steel cabinet in his office. He’s a statistics man and as long as his crime and success rate figures all tally up nicely, that’s all he’s bothered about. Actual police work is an anathema to him.
Hella, formerly a detective inspector in the homicide squad in Helsinki now demoted to police sergeant was sent to Avalo, Lapland, a remote part of Finland after she was judged to be too ‘sensitive’ when a case she was on went badly wrong. Hella has doubts about a missing person case up in a cold snowy even more remote part of the area Kaarmela. Eklund wants to tie things up by waiting until the spring thaw to investigate, wanting it to be a simple case but Hella won’t give in to him and decides to investigate. A man known as Enzo has disappeared leaving his young orphaned grandson alone. The wife of a local priest Irja Waltari had written to Eklund asking him to investigate Enzo’s disappearance. Hella, taking on the case travels to the remote area by a loggers truck, the only method of transport available driven by someone with a very unhealthy salacious interest in her, Kukoyakka a one-eyed truck driver. Fortunately she has a loaded gun with her should he try anything serious but she has to endure an uncomfortable journey with him as his hand often encroaches ever nearer to her leg and he declares his ‘romantic’ interest for Hella.
Irta, the priest’s wife is a comely, maternal woman who has taken on the care of Kalle the grandson of the missing Enzo. She cooks endlessly more than enough food for everyone. I didn’t like the way Hella treated Irta at first. She was rude and abrupt, despite Irta’s welcome and provision of food and shelter. I really liked Irta’s character and found her very interesting, particularly the part about her being a gifted artist who showed great early promise but was stopped from pursuing any art studies by an oppressive father. Hella though was determined to treat her, her husband and everyone else as a suspect in Enzo’s disappearance and tried to follow procedure by the book. Kaarmela is very close to the soviet border and as this is book is set during the Cold War period there is tension between the two countries and suspicions and speculation of ‘spying’ are rife.
When Hella finally uncovers the truth she’s faced with a dilemma and given uncomfortable decisions to make. More than once facing danger and even near rape she sticks to her principals and learns the hard way that old friends and contacts cannot always be relied on.
Although a little befuddled by the events at the end, mainly because of my ignorance of the historical facts, I really enjoyed this read and admired the character of Hella who grew on me more and more throughout the case and I really can’t wait to read more books featuring her.
About The Author
Katja Ivar grew up in Russia and the U.S. She travelled the world extensively, from Almaty to Ushuaia, from Karelia to Kyushu, before finally settling in Paris where she lives with her husband and three children. She received a B.A. in Linguistics and a master’s degree in Contemporary History from Sorbonne University. Evil Things is her debut novel.
Thanks to Anne Cater Of Random Things Tours and the publisher Bitter Lemon Press for my ARC copy. I’ve also purchased a kindle copy.
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