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  • Reviews for Nights of Awe by Harri Nykanen
  • Harri Nykanen |  Nights of Awe |  Review
Reviews for Nights of Awe by Harri Nykanen
'In Harri Nykänen Nights of Awe, Ariel Kafka, of Helsinki's Violent Crime Unit, wins the award for most intriguing name for a fictional detective, and it suits this impressively labyrinthine mystery. When two Arabs turn up dead on his patch and more murderous mayhem arrives at an Iraqi-owned garage, Kafka finds himself up against the Mossad as well as the Finnish State Security. But is he dealing with terrorists, drug runners-or worse? A cool debut for Kafka, with the promise of more to come.' - Time Out
- MBR Bookwatch
' "Nights of Awe " has a pretty catchy premise: the narrator -- with the catchy name Ariel Kafka ("For some reason, my name stuck in people's heads", he observes ...) -- is a detective in Helsinki's Violent Crime unit, a Jewish policeman in a country with very, very few Jews (reportedly only about 1500). The case he's called out on here is one that begins with the deaths of some Arabs and among the concerns soon enough is whether or not the threat al-Qaeda et al. pose has now reached even Finland.
Finland is notoriously by far the blood thirstiest of the Scandinavian countries, with a homicide rate considerably higher than any of the other Nordic states (even, of course, as it is very small compared with the murderous American rate); nevertheless, the homicides tend to be of the most pedestrian sort: the vast majority involve alcoholized males getting out of hand. Nights of Awe offers something way different -- all the way up to international conspiracy. It also offers a body count that's the equivalent of a couple of week's of all of Finland's usual quota. All in all, quite a stretch for a small thriller.
Kafka isn't very active in the local Jewish community, but he has some connections to it, and his brother, a successful lawyer, is more involved. The local synagogue comes to him with some concerns, wondering whether or not the case is connected to them: they fear possible threats -- and the fact that there's reportedly a very high-profile foreign visitor who is supposed to visit in the near future suggests a strong motive for certain parties to target them. And then there's Kafka's childhood friend, Dan Kaplan, who emigrated to Israel years earlier and seems to have become quite successful there, who seems to be involved in some way .....
The unusual deaths and various connections make for quite a tangled web. Drugs, business dealings (shady and otherwise), people who aren't quite who they say there, and religion all figure in the case. It makes for a very tangled web, and it takes a while to separate the threads and figure out what really happened here, and why.
It's a reasonably clever thriller-plot, with a few nice twists -- especially the resolution. It is, however, a lot for a standard 250-page first-in-a-series thriller to contain; this story would have benefitted from a lot more space and a more leisurely pace. The jarringly high body count also seems excessive, with too little follow-through: murder and mayhem almost simply for their own sake. Kafka -- promising: "I'm first and foremost a police officer, second a Finn, and only third a Jew" -- is an intriguing enough figure to base a series around, but Nykänen overextends himself in this first installment, jumping way in the deep end, and struggling to stay afloat there, making for a lot of splashing about.'
- Complete Review
'The protagonist of Harri Nykänen's 'Nights of Awe' is named Ariel Kafka, and he's one of two Jewish police officers in Helsinki.
Now, Finland's entire Jewish population is no bigger than a couple of good-sized Long Island bar mitzvahs, so it's no shock that Jews would be somewhat exotic figures there. Nykänen has Kafka react with head-shaking amusement to well-meaning questions about Jews, and the deadpan humor is of a piece with what Nykänen did so well in 'Raid' and the 'Blackest Sheep', the only previous book of his available in English.' - Philadelphia Inquirer
‘Helsinki Police Department Violent Crime Unit Inspector Ariel Kafka is assigned to investigate the deaths of two Arabs. One died falling from a railway bridge while the other was stabbed and shot with his nose and ears removed. Ariel assumes the case is to test his work ethics as the only Jewish police officer in the city at a time he mediates during the high holy Nights of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
A mobile phone is retrieved leading vigilant Ariel to the Iraqi Ali's Body Shop where two more corpses are found. The initial mass murders look gang related, but Ariel feels something is off kilter. Digging deeper, he begins to uncover evidence linking the homicides to terrorism. Meanwhile the Finnish Security Police watch his every move while some members of the synagogue where he prays provide Ariel with information that sends him looking back at his younger days and others want him to remember he is a Jew so he must support Israel regardless.

This is an excellent Finnish police procedural starring a Jewish cop being yanked in several directions by his due diligence as a police officer and his religious affiliation that want him to drop the inquiry to “protect” Israel. Ariel makes the case work as he learns that it has been seven decades since the Holocaust yet that stll remains a powerful influence on Israel and Jews around the world; especially during the Nights of Awe by those living near where the Final Solution was deployed. Readers will appreciate this strong character driven mystery as my nephew would say that Jews in the West don't become big city cops.' - Mystery Gazette
'To whom does a police inspector owe his loyalty: his religious community or the society he's hired to protect? Ariel Kafka, an inspector in the Finnish police department of Helsinki, faces this question in "Nights of Awe" by Harri Nykänen (Bitter Lemon Press), the first novel in a series originally published in Finland. When two Arabs are murdered, Kafka is called to the crime scene. When the Finnish Security Police start asking questions, Kafka wonders if there are political implications to the deaths. To further complicate matters, members of the Jewish community - including his brother - start asking for insider information. The case become even more complex when Kafka learns that an Israeli minister may be coming to Helsinki for Yom Kippur. The inspector is faced with a dilemma: finding the true murderers may create an international incident.
Kafka is an appealing detective: a non-observant 40-something Jewish bachelor who is such a stubborn, dedicated policeman that he's willing to risk his career to get an answer. The plot is exciting, with so many unexpected twists and turns that readers will find themselves quickly turning pages. It was also interesting to learn about the Finnish Jewish community and the relationship between Kafka and his fellow officers. Here's hoping Bitter Lemon Press publishes the remaining books in the series.'
- The Reporter
'Ariel Kafka is an inspector for the Helsinki police in the Violent Crime Unit. At the start of NIGHTS OF AWE, he is at a brutal crime scene in a train yard of two Arabs who have been shot and cut up - by all looks, a professional kill. This is only the start to the web-like mystery Kafka has to wade through.
Naturally, things only get more complicated, especially since he is Jewish, and racist ideas shine in some people's minds. Kafka states early on that he is a cop first, a Fin second and a Jew a distant third. This does not play well with his relatives - namely, his brother, who tries to use his influence to convince Ariel to share all his information, since their temple will be playing host to an Israeli minister in the coming days.
Add another set of killings - this time at an Iraqi-owned garage that could be the work of gang warfare, or something worse - and author Harri Nykänen weaves a story that could be placed anywhere in the world, making this novel easily accessible to all readers.
NIGHTS OF AWE never falters in pacing or getting too convoluted with extraneous points and plot devices. The title itself plays a center role to the story, as the Nights of Awe are the 10 days between the Jewish New Year and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, and Kafka makes a discovery that answer why the Arabs were killed. Were they terrorists? Or maybe just drug dealers?
These questions are all grist for Kafka to figure out before more bodies pile up. NIGHTS is the first of the Ariel Kafka stories to be translated to English by Bitter Lemon Press. Hopefully, it's not the last, since the novel is not only a solid police procedural, but also a great character study into a man who has a job to do while dealing with his religious upbringing and how it's slipping away from him.'
- Bookgasm
'Professional responsibility and ethnic affiliation clash in Nykänen's intriguing first novel starring Finnish police detective Ariel Kafka. With Helsinki's Jewish community dwindling, the local synagogue often lacks the required quorum for prayers, but Kafka believes he serves his community best by dedicating himself to his duties with the city's Violent Crimes Unit rather than being a regular synagogue attendee. Ironically, Kafka is relieved to be called to a homicide scene to get out of an uncomfortable conversation with his rabbi. Near a railway bridge, someone shot a young male foreigner four times and stabbed him twice, then sliced off his nose and ears. A second dead man, possibly the killer, appears to be an Arab, who broke his neck after jumping onto a moving train. When two more bodies surface shortly afterward, Kafka becomes concerned that the bloodshed is linked to the impending visit of the Israeli foreign minister. The resolution will satisfy noir fans.'
- Publishers Weekly
'Inspector Ari Kafka (no relation to the author or, indeed, the local pawn shop owner) is half of the Jewish police officers in Finland which he's sure is due to pay levels rather than religious conviction. Ari graduated 4th in his class at police academy which surprised his mother at the time. If his brother and sister could both graduate top of their university classes, what's wrong with him? His brother is always trying to encourage his attendance at family dinners and the local rabbi has to remind him of the whereabouts of the local synagogue. All this pressure is normally water off a duck's back to Kafka, but this is about to change. When two Arab bodies are found on a railway line, he must choose between loyalties to those he loves and to those he's sworn to serve.
The author, Harri Nykanen, was a crime journalist before turning to fiction and so comes to this police procedural with a back catalogue of experience and knowledge. This isn't his first novel, in fact he has won awards and one of his books (The Raid) has been made into a film. However, most of his output to date has been in Finnish, a loss to the rest of us if Nights of Awe is anything to go by. This is the world's introduction to Ari Kafka, and what an introduction.
Each fictional police detective needs a distinguishing feature to raise him above the rest. Ari's is his Judaism. Nykanen must have some involvement with the Jewish community himself as this book gains an extra dimension from the cultural flavouring. This doesn't just show itself in the book's title (an allusion to the Days of Awe, the time of Jewish self-examination and introspection leading up to Yom Kippur) but also the fact that the nationality of the killer hinges on a single word that's used differently in two middle-eastern languages. Also, unconnected to the culture, the author has endowed Kafka with a wonderfully cynical sense of humour, and (unfortunately for Kafka) little luck with the ladies. Ari tells the story of his closest brush with marriage: his fiancée finished with him as she felt that Judaism was an onerous faith with too many regulations. She finally married a Muslim.
It's not only the Jewish culture that permeates through the story, but that of Finland. Nykanen has cleverly ensured that this isn't just a crime thriller with snow. For instance, a car is described as being the same sort of light green as 'old men's underpants'. One only has to look at elderly male shoppers at the local underwear outlets in this country to confirm this book's foreign origins.
My only slight gripe is that Kafka's police colleagues are slightly under developed compared to his friends and family in the Jewish community. However, this may be intentional, fitting in with the Inspector's personality. On the whole, in his mind, the people he works with are just that, whereas his friends and family are those he cares about and so would be more three dimensional. Is it an unimportant flaw or clever plot device? You decide.
Talking of questions, the final one must be 'Where does Harri Nykanen's hero sit in the detective constellation?' He's as cynical as Morse but with more of a sense of humour and fewer crosswords. Perhaps he's a little like Jack Reacher but shorter, with fewer opportunities for fisticuffs and seduction. Or maybe, just maybe, Ari Kafka is Ari Kafka and, where ever he fits, I'm sure that this first book won't be the last. In fact, since Kristian London did so well translating this, perhaps he'd like to translate the rest of Mr Nykanen's back catalogue. There are definitely worse ways in which he could spend his time.' - Book Bag
‘Here's something of an oddity: a novel by a Finnish writer featuring a police inspector who is one of only two Jewish policemen in Finland, investigating the killing of two Arabs in Helsinki. His work is complicated by the fact that an Israeli minister is about to make an unofficial visit to Finland, inevitably with the Finnish police and Mossad involved. Beneath it all runs Inspector Ariel Kafka's awareness that this occurs just before the Jewish Day of Atonement. It's an interesting plot told in an entertaining, straight-forward style by a welcome new voice.' - Literary Review
'I haven't read a lot of crime fiction that's translated to English, with the exception being Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Naturally I was really interested to read the Finnish Nights of Awe for curiosity's sake if nothing else. I was not disappointed.
Nykänen's protagonist, Ariel Kafka, is complexly drawn. A rare Jewish cop, he is nothing like the noir counterparts that we tend to find in American and Scottish crime fiction. When he is assigned to a case where two bodies are found near a busy train station - one of them actually hit by a train, the other stabbed and shot multiple times - he feels that the case should end up being fairly clear cut. That isn't the case, however, when Ari's family and his local synagogue start becoming very interested in the murders. Pieces from his life, past and present, are drawn together in a complex web that presents him with one of the most morally challenging cases of his career as bodies begin to pile.
One thing that I really loved about Kafka (Nykänen does make a few remarks towards the famous author), was that he was so very different. He never overstepped his bounds as a cop, always operating within his guidelines and the functions that he had. Perhaps most impressive was his ability to listen to his subordinates, and dole out praise when it was warranted. For those that have read this blog, you know the slight obsession (ok, perhaps more than slight) I have with one DI Rebus. I could not help but compare the two detectives and marvel at just how different, and sort of refreshing, Ari's optimism really was. Sure, he begins the book examining a body in a newspaper bin and contemplating the utter meaningless existence the corpse had led in life. And yet, throughout this major case, he is always hopeful that the killers will be the caught, the crime solved, and those responsible brought to justice.
When I started the book, I felt like the style of the actual writing and I might not get along. Nykänen employs short sentences, succinct statements, and a very matter-of-fact tone. You can see that I enjoy a superfluous word or two, and I appreciate them in reading as well. Nykänen's style grew on me, however, and I came to really enjoy it fairly quickly. For a crime novel it works. I did not always feel I was reading a story, but more that I was witnessing the events unfold. It is an interesting approach and helped by the fact that it was executed well. Of course, a lot of pressure falls onto the translator who must maintain that same spirit that exists in the Finnish original. While I cannot speak for the beginning of the process, the end result was well done.
To be succinct, as Nykänen would prefer, I enjoyed this book. I enjoyed the dilemmas presented to Kafka, and his ability to navigate around the complications his family and beliefs put him in. I also enjoyed reading a Jewish protagonist. I feel that characters of faith - whichever it may be - are too little presented in fiction. Nykänen did a great job of making Kafka relateable to those who don't share his beliefs.' - Breathing Fiction
'Britain is in the throes of a full-on love affair with all things Scandinavian, on television, film, and books. From The Killing to the just launched The Bridge, from The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo to the gore of author Jo Nesbo, it is simply cool to be - well, cool.
And now Nordic Noir has its very own Jewish hero, in the unlikely figure of a Finnish Jewish police detective, Ariel Kafka. Inspector Kafka's first appearance in English was made this month with the publication of Nights of Awe, a wonderfully seedy crime thriller with bodies aplenty and a great deal of philosophical musing on the meaning of the Ten Days of Repentance between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
As the bodies pile up and suspicion is thrown on Mossad, Kafka reaches back to his childhood to figure out who is the real killer.
Ariel Kafka's creator is a former crime journalist, Harri Nykanen. Helsinki-born, Nykanen concedes cheerfully that he is not Jewish - "but who knows! My grandfather came from behind the Russian border."
For 20 years Nykanen worked as a crime reporter for the largest daily newspaper in Scandinavia, Helsingin Sanomat.
"That's why I know many policemen," he says. "One of them is Jewish, Dennis Pasterstein, who is now a chief inspector in Helsinki. There is another Jewish policeman in Finland too, but I've never met him."
Ten years ago Nykanen was fired and began writing novels. To date he has written more than 30 books.
"I have three series: Raid, about a Finnish hitman; Johnny & Bantzo, a comic crime series, and the Ariel Kafka books (so far there are four). I have also written a nonfiction book about the Helsinki underworld and some TV-series and screenplays."
Readers of Nights of Awe may be understandably confused about Jewish religious customs as expressed in Finland. As Kafka moves in on identifying the murderer, he is obliged to go to a large family Yom Kippur gathering at his brother's house. Given that Yom Kippur is a fast, it is difficult to interpret this festive family meal at the start of the Day of Atonement. But Nykanen shrugs this off.
"Basically, it's a detective or crime story, not a Jewish dictionary or non-fiction book. That's why there may be many inaccuracies, maybe clichés too. I hope that people will take that into consideration as they read my books".
Which is not to say that this one-time journalist has not done his research. "When I started writing the Ariel Kafka series, I asked Dennis Pasterstein many questions. I asked him if he could go to work on the Sabbath, and what his family thought about him being a policeman. I'm interested in the clash of everyday life and kosher traditions in Judaism. I know that many Finnish Jews are assimilated. Of course, I went to visit the Jewish community. I met Dan Kantor, executive director of the Jewish community of Helsinki, in one of the synagogues. After this I read many books about Jewish traditions, culture (Jewish humour, too), the history of Finnish Jews and Ha-Kehila (the magazine of the local Jewish community)."
Nykanen believes that there are few Orthodox Jews in Finland, although in fact there is a thriving Chabad community. Perhaps his most hilarious - and not necessarily innocent - question to Detective Pasterstein was the following: "If you are in the sauna with your friends, and your friends offer you barbecued sausage which perhaps contains pork - do you eat it to be polite?" The detective's response has not been recorded.
Since Mossad features so strongly in Nights of Awe, Nykanen is keen to point out that he knows Mossad agents.
"Many readers may think that a Mossad operation in Finland would be impossible, but I know a non-Jewish Finn who is a Mossad officer. He was both a Helsinki policeman and a criminal. He was a gun and drugs smuggler, and also sold fake dollars.
"And I also know a Finnish Jew who is an IDF officer. You might recall Mossad's disastrous operation in Norway, where they mistakenly killed a man because they believed that he was a terrorist. So, knowing many unbelievable stories during my career as a crime reporter, I may say that everything is possible."
The Finnish Jewish community, Nykanen says, "is very small but important. There are many Jewish artists, musicians, writers, journalists, including Ruben Stiller, and Congressman Ben Zyskowicz [Finland's first Jewish parliamentarian]. I think that Finland is a good country for Jewish life - or I really hope so".
Kafka, he says, is "a real Finnish Jewish name." His fictional detective is endlessly asked if he is related to Franz Kafka, but according to Nykanen: "The original Mr Kafka used to own a secondhand shop in Helsinki, where I bought my first American jeans, Lee Jeans, in1 968".
Nights of Awe has so far been followed by Ariel and the Spiderwomen, Behind God's Back, and Holy Ceremony, all of which have been published in German, though not yet in English. (Nykanen's UK publishers are considering bringing out the rest depending on the response to Nights of Awe.)
Accepting that Ariel Kafka has a terrible love life, Nykanen amusedly reports: "The most recent book gives hope that Ariel will find a nice Jewish girlfriend, which isn't easy here in Finland because we have a small Jewish population of about 1300, so there aren't so many single Jewish women."
With good nature he accepts my suggestion that he should send Kafka to Tel Aviv and have him work with an Israeli woman detective. "That's a good idea. Maybe I will steal it."
But it does not sound as though Kafka is going to find happiness any time soon.
"Ariel is always a little bit of an outsider and a little bit of a melancholic character. Like Finnish men often are." - Jewish Chronicle
'In Harri Nykanen's Nights of Awe, two Arabs are killed in Helsinki. It's not every day that two people are murdered in Helsinki. That Arabs are killed in Helsinki is extremely rare. Perhaps even stranger than this, however, is the fact that the police inspector assigned to the case, Ariel Kafka, is a Jew. He is one of the few Jews in Finland, and one of the even fewer Jews in Finland working in the police force.
The two Arabs have died violent deaths. The first was stabbed and shot to death, and had his nose and ears removed afterwards. The other died falling from a railway bridge while being chased by the two killers.
Inspector Ariel Kafka of the Helsinki Police Department Violent Crime Unit doesn't know what to think of the cases. But he knows that he feels it is strange that the only Jewish police officer in the city is assigned a case like this during the high holy Nights of Awe between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. But this is Finland. Nobody cares about Jewish holy days or about Kafka being Jewish in the first place. It is assumed that he first of all is a Finnish police officer, and that other identities are secondary.
However, the two killings are just the beginning in the relatively violent Nights of Awe. Soon, Ariel is called to a car body shop where two more dead bodies await him. The case is quickly becoming a mass murder scenario. But who is doing this, and why? Is it money or drug related? There are clues leading in this direction, and there are people seemingly wanting Ari to believe so, but the facts don't add up quite as nicely as Ari would like.
More and more it seems to Ariel that the murders somehow are "political ". And as he digs deeper, he begins to uncover evidence linking the homicides to terrorism. As he does, he increasingly feels that he is being watched by the Finnish Security Police on one hand and members of his synagogue on the other. What is going on?
Nights of Awe is an interesting and very good Finnish police procedural. Detective Ariel Kafka is an interesting character, but I feel he needs to be developed a little further to becomes really, really interesting. The plot of the book is very good, and the story is quite suspenseful. What I appreciated the most in Nights of Awe, were the intriguing, compelling and very good dialogues with their dark humor, along with the feeling of authenticity. The ending is good too. Overall, it's a great Finnish crime fiction novel from Harri Nykanen, very different from the style in most Swedish crime fiction novels, for instance. Recommended!' - Nordic Bookblog
'The protagonist of Harri Nykänen's Nights of Awe is named Ariel Kafka, and he's one of two Jewish police officers in Helsinki. Now, Finland's entire Jewish population is no bigger than a couple of good-sized Long Island bar-mitzvahs, so it's no shock that Jews would be somewhat exotic figures there. Nykänen has Kafka react with head-shaking amusement to well-meaning questions about Jews, and the deadpan humor is of a piece with what Nykänen did so well in Raid and the Blackest Sheep.
Kafka's Jewish identity figures also in the crimes that drive this story, a series of killings of Arabs that eventually involves drugs, trains, cars, Israeli diplomats, the Mossad intelligence service, and friends and others from Kafka's own past. To say too much more would risk spoilers, except that things, as in all good mysteries, are not what they seem, even when you think you've figured out what's what and who's who.
The novel's title refers to the Jewish high holidays, the Days of Awe, when observant Jews repent of their sins. Nykänen presumably intends moral weight, but a character named Kafka needs no help from the calendar to get introspective. The story could have been set any time in the year.
The book was smoothly translated into English by Kristian London, an American who lives in Helsinki. The fluency of the translation is especially noticeable in the novel's first half, which consists largely of routine police detail and dialogue, where the prose, and not the action, must hold readers' attention.' - Detectives Beyond Borders
'With more than 30 published novels under his belt, Nights of Awe is the latest offering from Finnish crime journalist turned crime writer, Harri Nykanen, who has recently signed with Bitter Lemon Press. But it's only the second of his books to appear in English. Nykanen's previous release, Raid and the Blackest Sheep, part of the Raid series, was published by the Minneapolis-based Finnish crime publisher Ice Cold Crime back in 2010.
Yom Kippur is looming and the Helsinki Police Department's only Jewish detective, Ariel Kafka, an inspector in the Violent Crimes Unit, has been called in to probe the deaths of two Arab men. Their bodies have been discovered close to the railway tracks in Linnunlaulu, the Kallio district of the city. Initial attempts to identify both victims are significantly hampered by facial damage inflicted at the time of death and a distinct lack of any identifying papers. Someone seems very keen on ensuring that these men remain nameless and one of the victims is missing his nose and an ear.
The story itself is compelling and Ariel is a likeable protagonist dealing with problems in his own life that make him more credible, without overpowering the main focus of the story. He's not like Scandinavian contemporaries such as Harry Hole and Kurt Wallander, his problems are more mundane. Ariel juggles investigating his most difficult case yet with his obligations to his faith. Found to be lacking academically by his family, not committed enough by his rabbi and, worst of all, still unmarried at 40, it's clear that Ariel is a man who tries hard to meet the high expectations placed on him but through no fault of his own always seems to fall short.
As a copper, he's dedicated to his job and methodical in his approach. The investigation gradually begins to make some progress but things start to become complicated when the security police show an interest in the case, and two more bodies are discovered in a garage. Ariel and his team initially believe this may have been a dispute between rival drug gangs but perhaps there are more sinister implications. With the body count growing, Ariel finds himself under increasing pressure to get a result.
At 256 pages this is quite a quick, easy book to read, with definite appeal for those who favour the police procedural side of crime fiction. However, Nykanen is known as a writer who, like Steig Larsson, isn't afraid of broaching some of the deeper problems within Finnish Society. Nights of Awe certainly has an interesting spectrum of themes ranging from potential terror cells to the Arab-Israeli conflict, anti-semitism and Mossad.
Although a seasoned hand at crime writing, Harri Nykanen is a new find for us here at CFL, but he's someone we'll definitely be keeping an eye on in the future. Nights of Awe is available to buy in paperback from today, and will be available as a Kindle download from 10 April.' - Crime Fiction Lover
‘Nykänen's twist on Nordic crime fiction may be the most inventive of the year. Ariel Kafka, a middle-aged bachelor, is a detective in Helsinki (think early Harry Hole) and, as far as he knows, the only Jew on the entire Helsinki police force, which is why he's picked to head up the investigation of a series of murders that began with two Arabic-looking men who may have been shouting Jewish obscenities as they died. Set during the days leading up to Yom Kippur, this complex tale moves quickly, as Ari attempts to figure it all out. With pressure from his colleagues, police administration, his brother, and the local Jewish community, can he uncover everything before the holiest day in the Jewish calender? The clever combination of classic Jewish themes with the traditions of Nordic crime makes for a refreshing tale with wide appeal. And the subtle humor, combined with a hero who is not completely depressed and alcoholic, makes it even better. Not just for readers of Nordic fiction, this should also be suggested to those who relate to New York Jewish detectives, including Lenny Briscoe (from Law & Order) and John Munch (from Homicide and Law & Order: SVU), as well as readers who enjoy the black humor of Stuart MacBride.' - Booklist
‘In the open pages of NIGHTS OF AWE, Ariel Kafka, a violent crime detective and one of two Jewish policemen in Finland, stands looking into a dumpster at the body of a street person. Kafka thinks that a crazed companion probably did in the victim, perhaps in a struggle over a now empty booze bottle. He stands and reflects on the meaning or meaninglessness of life. His musings are appropriate, even for a non-observant Jew, on the eve of the High Holy Days. Tradition runs deep; it is a time for introspection. Later that morning Kafka runs into his sometime rabbi on the street. Rabbi Liebstein aggressively confronts Kafka on his lack of religiosity and his absence from synagogue. He reminds Kafka that, "The soul requires rest, otherwise the person becomes as frail as the ashes of burnt silk, and eventually crumbles into the tiniest motes of dust." Liebstein's words are prophetic, for within hours of this conversation Kafka's life is spinning in a maelstrom of events; two murders are followed by two more. All the victims are men from the Middle East. At first the crimes appear to be tied to narcotics trafficking, perhaps signaling the beginning of a turf war between competing gangs. Then things become even more sinister as possible links to international terrorism emerge. More murders and explosions follow and Kafka, as lead investigator, has to move the probe forward, juggling the interests of various police agencies and intelligence services, each with its own agenda. Most of the story is presented in dialogue and first person narration. It is a book about character rather than place - the settings and landscape are seldom mentioned. The plot is complex - connecting Finland to a history not of its making, turning this remote northerly landscape into a battlefield of warring religions and ideologies. At the end the plot, coming almost full circle, is resolved. Along the way Ariel Kafka's loyalty to friends, family, and his religious community compete with his professionalism. And all of these influences merge in a surprising and original conclusion.' - Iloveamystery
'The protagonist of Harri Nykanen's "Nights of Awe" is named Ariel Kafka, and he's one of two Jewish police officers in Helsinki.
Kafka's Jewish identity figures in the crimes that drive the story, a series of killings of Arabs that eventually involves drugs, trains, cars, Israeli diplomats, the Mossad intelligence service and friends and others from Kafka's past. To say too much more would risk spoilers, except that things, as in all good mysteries, are not what they seem, even when you think you've figured out what's what and who's who.
Nykanen is part of the blinding ice storm of Nordic crime writing that has buffeted the world since Stieg Larsson died, but he stands out from the crowd for at least two reasons: his deadpan humor and his thrilling ability to sustain narrative pace on little but routine details, personal interactions and professional observations over the course of a police investigation. He's a worthy successor in this respect to Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, the supreme and supremely influential masters of Scandinavian crime writing.'
- Buffalo News
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