Until a few years ago who’d have thought we’d be lapping up crime novels set in Lapland? Evil Things is set (mainly) in Lapland, close to the Soviet border, in freezing 1952, freezing because the cold war is at its height and few in that small and vulnerable country are sure that World War Two is done.
Being a female homicide investigator in an almost exclusively male Finnish police force is a chilly prospect too. Hella Mauzer, demoted from Inspector for something unexplained till near the end, has lost her lover and doesn’t get on with her boss or colleagues (or pretty well anyone else) and has trekked into rural Lapland to investigate the disappearance and likely death of a remote villager. She doesn’t have long, because winter is about to fall (heavily) after which she will be stuck there until spring. Lodging with the local priest (who also has a past) and getting little help from the villagers, she uncovers ‘evil things’.
All this is well done, almost a high-grade cosy rather than Scandi Noir, and keeps us intrigued till the action begins. But in the last quarter of the book when the action kicks off (with an attempted rape) the narrative becomes hasty, scrambled and implausible. Almost lost in the melee is the reason for both Hella’s demotion and the motivation of a friend in need – all of which would have justified a chapter placed, say, just before the action begins. Plus … I’m sorry to be negative, but Katja Ivar doesn’t do violence well. That’s a shame, because she writes well, and the first three quarters of the book are atmospheric and absorbing. Perhaps she could introduce us to a new concept: Scandi Cosy? That would be really Hygge, don’t you think?
Evil Things by Katja Ivar Bitter Lemon paperback, £8.99, 978-1-912242-09-2