Review: Helsinki White by James Thompson

  • Reading level: Ages 18 and up
  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult (March 15, 2012)
  • ISBN-10: 0399158324
  • Source: Publisher

In the third Inspector Vaara novel, Inspector Kari Vaara has recently learned he has a brain tumor. Experiencing debilitating headaches for some time now, he finally sought treatment, never expecting the news he received. The timing wasn’t exactly perfect; his wife Kate just gave birth to their daughter, Anu. Kari agrees to surgery, which removes his tumor and any sense of emotion he once experienced.

Simultaneously, Kari is asked to lead a black ops unit to battle the most horrific crime. A national hero, he is the only member of the police to survive two gun-shot wounds.  His team battles crime by committing crimes themselves, using money, drugs, and weapons seized from illegal raids to fund their operation. This team of motley characters reports directly to Finland’s national chief of police, a man that isn’t entirely innocent himself.

The political background of Finland plays a key role in this novel. The extreme white wing party, the True Finns, is gaining power. Their agenda is to keep Finland pure, eliminating individuals who, by skin color alone, taint the purity of their nation.

The first case assigned to Kari’s team is the assassination of the country’s leading immigrants’ rights advocate, her head presented as the only evidence of her death. The case involves much more than this murder, tying to the abduction of a billionaire’s children.

Now a true sociopath, Kari is corrupted by the crime that surrounds him. His actions begin to contaminate his marriage as well. His American wife, Kate, begins drinking heavily, so much so that her breast milk becomes tainted and she is unable to feed their infant daughter.  When she becomes involved in the case, the damage done to their relationship may be beyond repair.

By far, Helsinki White is much darker than the two previous books in the series, Snow Angels and Lucifer’s Tears. The setting, cold, dark, Finland, aids in the overall feeling of dread and disparity portrayed in these books. That said, Thompson takes Kari, and the other characters, to a level of violence and depravity that may turn off many of his readers. That is not to say that I did not enjoy this book; I found it as tremendous as his previous novels. However, the emotions I felt while reading, particularly those involving Kari himself, stunned me. I shifted from adoring his character to truly hating him. Agreeably, his lack of emotion wasn’t of his own doing, but a side effect of the surgery. However, this lack of feeling, love, emotion, for his family went to dangerous levels. He toted his daughter around in a carrier while he was immersed in pretty violent acts. Kate, once a source of joy and happiness is forced to resort to violence to protect those she loves.

Fans of the previous two books in this series will be shocked by the transformation Kari takes. Originally, I was furious at Thompson for destroying a character I’ve grown to love. That said, the fact that he was able to transform Kari so significantly, so drastically, proves his true talent as a writer. The ability to evoke emotion from readers is a skill that authors strive for, a talent that Thompson has showcased.

Additionally, his ability to tackle such a difficult issue as race relations garnered even more of my respect and interest in reading this book. The portrayal of this battle isn’t sugar-coated at all, but portrayed without a veil of illusion.  The sad fact is that Thompson pulls these details from reality, often making them an integral part of his novels.

Despite my issues with Kari’s character, I do truly recommend this book to fans of the series, with the warning that all is not what once was. This is Thompson’s darkest, grittiest novel, yet one that I cannot help but recommend. I’m waiting, on pins and needles, for the next installment in this series, due out next year.

Be sure to check out these other reviews of Helsinki White:

S. Krishna’s Books
Book Reviews by Elizabeth A. White (Musings of an All Purpose Monkey) Also, Elizabeth did an outstanding interview with the author here.

4 thoughts on “Review: Helsinki White by James Thompson

  1. Amazing what someone as talented as Jim can do with even the most (potentially) offensive subject matter, isn’t it? Great review. And thanks for the shout out.

  2. I’m reading it now…will be honest, didn’t read your entire review because I didn’t want to get any spoilers, but I did get gist: that this is a different Kari Vaara. I’m already getting that even though I’m early in book and not sure I’m liking it, but I’m going with it. I’ve been reading Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole series so I’m sort of used to the flawed northern European cop.

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