Finland · review · Translated

Light in a Dark House by Jan Costin Wagner

light in a dark houseLight in a Dark House by Jan Costin Wagner, translated by Anthea Bell
Harvill Secker, Sept. 2013
Originally published as Das Licht in einem dunklen Haus, 2011
Kimmo Joentaa book 4

FTC Disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Light in a Dark House is a very moody crime novel set in Finland that is in part a police procedural, but it doesn’t really adhere to that genre. After a very effective and non-graphic prologue (bravo!), the book opens with a rather long setpiece at Kimmo Joentaa’s boss’s fiftieth birthday party, a party that the grieving widower Joentaa attends with his girlfriend Larissa, who leaves him the day after the party. Not only does he miss his dead wife, he misses the enigmatic Larissa throughout the book. Costin Wagner focuses on the characters a great deal and their grief, and grief is also key to the crimes they investigate in this book.

The plot alternates between the present day starting with the murder of a comatose woman in a hospital and a horrid crime that happened during the summer of 1985 which is captured in enigmatic diary entries that become clearer as the book progresses. It’s a story about violence against women and the effects of the crime on those who didn’t try to stop the crime. The mood is quite sad.

Joentaa is a compelling character not only for his personal life but for his intuitive investigatory style. The experience of reading the book is very much like being in Joentaa’s head as impressions of the investigation wash over him. It’s hard to capture a mind at work, but Costin Wagner does it very well. It’s also a book that has stayed with me: it’s not a book with a gripping plot that I immediately forget, but the events and the mood have lingered.

Finally, this is the first book I’ve read that’s set in Finland, and the Finnish touches that stood out to me, besides the names, dealt with food: tundraberry ice cream and brightly colored muesli jumped out at me. Sometimes the oddest flourishes in a book stick with me.

I very much look forward to catching up with this series.

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8 thoughts on “Light in a Dark House by Jan Costin Wagner

  1. Rebecca – I’m glad you enjoyed your first experience with Detective Kimmo. It’s not a ‘typical’ series, if there is such a thing. I like the innovvation in these novels, and I am glad that you liked it.

  2. It sounds good but I may have reached my quota of books about violence against women at this point, and need a break. I just saw a TV episode last night of a program from Denmark, which had such brutality against women that I need to tune out on this topic for awhile.

    1. I feel conflicted on this point too sometimes, Kathy. Thankfully I can skim or skip the violent parts in books compared to TV broadcasts/streaming feeds of shows where the images still jump out at me.

    1. I’m glad to hear you think other books in the series are better, Sarah. And now I really need to make a list of authors whose series I need to complete (it’s grown quite a bit since I started blogging).

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