Nights of Awe by Harri Nykänen, translated by Kristian London
Originally published as Ariel in Finland, 2004
Bitter Lemon Press
Publication date: April 2012
Nights of Awe introduces Detective Ariel Kafka of the Violent Crimes Unit in the Helsinki police department. After a quick background chapter introducing the main character and his Jewish heritage (he hasn’t really practiced in years), we are immediately in the investigation of multiple murders. It’s a bit disorienting, in part because Finnish names aren’t familiar to me, and in part because there’s a quite high body count in the first third of the book.
While Ari is a police inspector, this isn’t a typical police procedural: it’s also a conspiracy thriller, involving the peeling away of the many layers of the conspiracy. I don’t typically read conspiracy thrillers, so I don’t have any comparisons to draw. It’s not a case that simply unravels: there are crosses and double-crosses and hidden motives galore.
The protagonist Kafka is interesting. Nykänen spends more time talking about his family members and how his family’s life affected him than he spends talking about his Jewish background, even though the title of the novel refers to the days between Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Kafka is interesting in that he doesn’t seem too grizzled, cynical, or burnt out, as so many police inspectors can be. One negative note about Kafka is that his objectification of women gets to be a bit much during the story.
Finally, the book has an interesting take on the relationship between Finland and Israelis and Palestinians, something I hadn’t really pondered before. It’s a messy history, and I learned something I didn’t know.
If you’re interested in a police procedural with a conspiracy story, some interesting political history thrown in, and some dark twists you’ll like this book.