Book review: Lucifer’s Tears by James Thompson

Meet ‘ice man’ Inspector Kari Vaara... he’s cooler than cool, and he’s giving the Scandinavian heroes of Arnaldur Indridason, Henning Mankell and Jo Nesbo a run for their money.

Thursday, 1st December 2011, 6:00 am

Lucifer’s Tears is the gripping follow-up to US-born James Thompson’s much-talked-about debut novel Snow Angels which introduced us to the truculent, straight-talking Finnish homicide detective who can’t seem to steer clear of trouble whether he’s at work or at home.

Thompson, who has lived in Helsinki for the past decade, excels in atmospheric and fast-paced crime stories full of graphic violence, detailed police procedure, devilish plotting and smart characterisation.

His multi-layered murder mysteries take us into the deepest and darkest corners of Finnish history as well as providing storylines that are gruesome and shocking but also intelligent and thought-provoking.

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Vaara has left the unrelenting darkness and extreme cold of his native Lapland, where a previous case left him with a scarred face, chronic insomnia and a full body count’s worth of ghosts, and is working the graveyard shift in Helsinki’s homicide unit.

His American-born wife Kate lost the twins she was expecting during the turmoil of a year ago but is now eight and a half months pregnant with their daughter. There are complications and it’s causing Vaara more stress than he would care to admit.

The inspector and his eccentric sergeant Milo Nieminen are the two ‘black sheep’ of the elite homicide unit... Vaara is not trusted because of his accelerated promotion and Nieminen’s sky-high IQ of 172 has him labelled as ‘an oddball geek brainiac.’

Together they are drawn into the murder-by-torture case of Iisa Filippov, the philandering wife of a ruthless, cold-blooded Russian businessman.

Her lover and riding instructor, Estonian Rein Saar, is clearly being framed and while Ivan Filippov’s arrogance is highly suspicious, he’s got friends in high places who are more than happy to send a sacrificial lamb to the slaughter.

Meanwhile, Vaara is also given the complicated off-the-record job of investigating a Finnish national hero who is currently wanted for war crimes from the Second World War and who could well compromise the reputation of Vaara’s late grandfather.

Added to this are Vaara’s worrying headaches, his trigger-happy sergeant and the unwelcome arrival of Kate’s brother and sister from America.

And very soon the past and present will collide in ways no one could have anticipated…

Taut, grim and utterly compelling, Lucifer’s Tears is as dark as a winter’s night in Finland.

(Avon, paperback, £6.99)