"Welcome to the most stubborn of cops, Hella Mauzer, righting wrongs in cold Lapland, a memorable character with just the right disdain for authority and its amoral attitudes to justice and women. A feminist 1952 cop before feminism was invented." Maxim Jakubowski, author of The Louisiana Republic
“I read it in one sitting. It’s thrilling. The setting, the timing, being in the midst of the Cold War, and our stubborn, smart and brave heroine Hella – a woman fighting crime in a world opposed to her, are all elements I enjoyed. Katja Ivar turns a seemingly small random crime into something much bigger. A very good read!” Cecilia Ekbäck, author of Wolf Winter
“This is a remarkable debut — the best novel I’ve read this year. A historical thriller with a heart that keeps you enthralled to the final page. Ivar has constructed a frightening, atmospheric and addictive tale set in 1950s Lapland on the border with Soviet Russia. Spies, international conspiracies, overlaid on icily claustrophobic rural life. But above all in Hella Mauzer a believable heroine prepared to put her own life on the line for justice. I can’t wait for her next adventure.” David Young, author of A Darker State and STASI Child, both part of the Oberleutnant Karin Mueller series.
Noteworthy Debuts: Mysteries & Thrillers 2018–2019
Publishers Weekly: Rookie authors disclose the motives and methods behind their crime novels.
Evil Things (Bitter Lemon, Feb. 2019) by Katja Ivar
Ivar’s Nordic noir, set during the Cold War, introduces Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. When the wife of an Orthodox priest asks her to investigate the disappearance of a man in a small village on the Soviet border, Mauzer discovers the man was murdered, and that his death may not be the only crime in need of investigation. Ivar says she began the novel as a way to escape the overwhelming “grief and pain” she experienced after suffering a stillbirth, and spent hours poring over artefacts in Finland’s National Police Museum. Elements of her past, she says, worked their way into the story, and “it turned out to be a very life-affirming book.”
Publishers Weekly Starred Review
Set in Finnish Lapland in 1952 amid the overarching threat of East vs. West conflict, Ivar’s stellar first novel and series launch revolve around two crucial struggles for emancipation—that of the nation of Finland after centuries of foreign rule, and that of Finnish women. Hella Mauzer, the first female Helsinki murder squad detective, is dispatched to a remote Lapland village near the Soviet border by her chauvinistic boss to investigate an old man’s disappearance. Embittered by the death of her entire immediate family during WWII and her recent breakup with her married lover, the 30ish, stiletto-tongued Hella tries to behave professionally like a man, but she defies male authority by using her instinct for detecting half-truths and her compassion for the weak to try to solve what initially appears to be a minor missing person case. With the discovery of the body of a Soviet doctor, it mushrooms into something much more complex involving institutional corruption and international intrigue. The unusual setting and psychologically complex heroine will leave readers eagerly awaiting the next instalment.
Sunday Times Crime Club
In the strange, enclosed world of 1950s Lapland, uncomfortably rubbing up against Soviet Russia, secrets and conspiracies run deep within isolated rural communities. When detective Hella Mauzer arrives to investigate the case of a missing grandfather — and a grandson left uncared for — it will take all her nascent feminist courage to right the wrongs she uncovers. We're promised it's the first in a series.
Wall Street Journal
“Sgt. Hella Mauzer—the protagonist of “Evil Things”, Katja Ivar’s captivating first novel set in Finland in 1952—is the first woman to work on the homicide squad in Helsinki. But Hella’s dreams of career advancement have been thwarted by her posting to the three-person department in Ivalo, “the dullest city on earth,” she observes, “without contest.”
When an Orthodox priest’s wife in Finnish Lapland, up near the Russian border, writes the department pleading for assistance in finding a missing man named Erno, Hella shames her work-averse boss into letting her investigate. In stark Käärmela (“the snake place”), she meets a handful of citizens worthy of a mid-period Ingmar Bergman film, including the handsome young priest and his wife; Erno’s greedy, nosy neighbor; and the missing man’s traumatized grandson, too shy to speak except to the cat.
Coincident with Hella’s arrival, a local search party finds the animal-ravaged remains of a human corpse in the forest. They’re not Erno’s but a woman’s—found near her own severed head with a bullet hole in the right temple. Hella battles the elements, bureaucratic obstruction and secretive villagers to discern the facts within a flurry of theories involving jealousy, treachery and even Russian espionage. “My dear girl,” her patronizing boss instructs, “justice in a cold climate is not a natural phenomenon.” But the stubborn and resourceful Sgt. Hella Mauzer seems just the police officer to deliver it.”
Midwestern Book Review (MBR)
"Evil Things" is the debut novel in author Katja Ivar's new 'Hella Mauzer Crime Series'. An impressive example of Nordic noir, "Evil Things" is a historic thriller set during the Cold War. While very highly recommended for community library Mystery/Suspense collections, it should be noted for the personal reading lists of dedicated mystery buffs that "Evil Things" is also available in a digital book format.
Mystery Scene Magazine - Winter issue
One of the finest books to be released this season is Katja Ivar’s Evil Things which takes place in 1952 Finland, in a snowbound Lapp village located within walking distance from the Soviet border." Erno Jokinen, an elderly villager, has gone missing, and Sergeant Hella Mauzer —one of Finland’s rare polissysters (female police officers)—is sent to investigate. Hella, whose temperament has given her a bad reputation within the highly sexist police ranks, finds that the villagers don’t like her much, either. Most of them have already accepted the fact that Erno has either been killed and eaten by a bear, or has accidentally staggered drunkenly across the Soviet border and been imprisoned. Or maybe Erno was a Soviet spy, and had finally gone home to his Cold War masters. Hella dismisses the third explanation out of hand, because she doesn’t believe Erno would have left his young grandson alone in his isolated cabin to starve to death. Fortunately, the boy is found, and taken to the local Orthodox priest’s house, where the priest’s wife, the childless Irja, is thrilled to have a child to care for. The push-and-pull between Hella and Irja—each passionate about their respective vocations—is heart-wrenching, but beautifully handled. Neither can agree about the future of Erno’s probably-orphaned grandchild since the chances of finding Erno alive are slim. But just as Hella is getting ready to leave the village and return to police headquarters—possibly with the child in tow—she finds the dismembered body of a Soviet army officer. While the murder (actually there are at least two murders in this fascinating book) is in itself interesting enough to move the plot along, the true joy in Evil Things is author Ivar’s ability to blend Cold War politics, sexual politics, geopolitics, and personal tragedy in Hella’s pursuit for justice. And then there is the horrific weather. Hella’s boss, the maddeningly condescending Chief Inspector Eklund, is not sympathetic to her desire for justice. “My dear girl, justice in a cold climate is not a natural phenomenon,” he laughs. “Snow is. That’s something that influences our work more than any idea of justice does.” But Hella ignores Eklund’s dismissal and forges ahead to a marvellous, unforeseen ending that will leave readers clamouring for another Hella Mauzer novel. And maybe inspire a desire to visit modern Finland.
In 1950s Finland, the shortage of men is so severe that the police have been forced, with undisguised distaste, to employ a female detective. It’s well-known that women are too emotional for serious casework, which is why Sergeant Hella Mauzer is based in quiet Lapland in Evil Things by Katja Ivar (Bitter Lemon Press, £8.99). When she’s sent to deal with the seemingly routine disappearance of an old man from a village cut off from the rest of the world by snow, no-one expects her to uncover, let alone solve, a crime. But Mauzer will need all the stubbornness her bosses accuse her of when she realises that something more awful than mere murder has taken place. Cold-war Lapland is a glitteringly fresh setting and the protagonist is an unexpected character who I’d love to meet again.
Feeling curiously devoid of emotion, Hella ran down the steps to where a canvas sack stood on the frozen earth, a dark brown stain spread across it like some exotic flower. She motioned towards it.
“Is it inside?”
Ivalo Police Headquarters, Northern Finland, 13th October 1952.
The speck on the map that is the Sami village of Käärmela, surrounded by marshes and hills, makes Hella wonder why she is determined to go there. Chief Inspector Eklund, her boss, has dismissed the idea of a crime. An accident, he says. An old man disappears, probably got lost or drunk. Hella points out that a man born in that forest wouldn’t get lost. Nor would he leave his six year old grandson alone for days. Eklund is scornful. The man is probably not the perfect grandfather that she imagines. She tries again, pointing out that the local priest’s wife has reported it to them. Won’t an uninvestigated report ruin the section’s statistics? Eklund seems to grow uncomfortable. He orders Hella to tell the priest’s wife that with winter snows due they cannot send an investigator but will take up the case in May when the snows melt. After a long unpleasant haggle which includes suffering Eklund’s opinion that Hella would be better off looking for a husband at the next town ball, Hella takes Eklund’s offer of vacation time to visit the village. But only for a couple of days. She forces a smile at her boss.
Käärmela, near the Finnish-Soviet border.
The priest’s wife, Irja, again tries to reassure the silent little boy that his grandfather will return soon. Four days ago an old woman had dragged the boy into Irja’s home claiming that his grandfather was missing, probably dead, and that she had had to beat the boy to get him to leave the empty house. He won’t eat, sleep or speak, said the woman. It's Irja’s duty, as the priest’s wife, to look after him. Irja tried to reassure the distraught boy as he clutched their old cat for comfort. Putting him to bed, she immediately wrote a letter to the Ivalo Police about the missing grandfather.
Ivalo Police Headquarters, 14th October 1952
Persistently irritated by the sign on her door which reads “H. Mauzer, Polyssister” (she was Helsinki’s first woman detective for God’s sake, not a tea-maker cum hand-holder), Hella is further annoyed to see that her colleague Ranta has again been snooping around her office. She concentrates on leaving her desk in scrupulous order with a view to appeasing Chief Inspector Eklund. At home she packs: a rucksack, walking boots, warm clothes, notebook, her coffee pot. She shudders at having to accept a lift north with Kukoyakka, the only logging driver willing to take her. She decides to take her gun. True, the armed conflict in the countryside is quieter now but if Kukoyakka pushes his luck… She smiles.
Käärmela, same day.
The priest's wife has another visitor, a neighbour of the boy and his grandfather. Has he come to ask after the little boy? No, he says. He has decided to buy the missing man’s house. The boy can live with her and the priest after all. He reaches into his coat and pulls out some notes, pushing them across the table to her. The price of a bag of fish. He rises, announcing the deal done. Irja is outraged and pushes the money back at him explaining that now is not the time. “Bitch!” For a moment she is frightened of him but she stands her ground and he leaves.
Irja had asked the Ivalo police about the disappearance but had been treated with contempt. The boy keeps asking when they will arrive and despite her own doubts she humours him. When a tall angular figure in a parka and carrying a pack approaches their house through the dusk the boy is positive it is the police. Then he whispers in disbelief, “It’s a woman”...
EVIL THINGS is Katya Ivar’s first novel. Raised in both Russia and the US and now living in Paris, Ivar has given us, in EVIL THINGS, a gripping police procedural set in an unfamiliar time and place for most crime readers. Set in a remote community in a time of political turmoil but also a time and society pushing women to conform to tradition, Katja Ivar's collected portraits of the women who conform and those who don't are strikingly drawn. Hella Mauzer herself, as befits a central “cop” figure, is always at the edge: the outsider, the misfit, considered by her colleagues to be mad, bad and possibly dangerous to know. The first woman investigative police officer in Helsinki until disgraced, downgraded and moved to a remote posting in Ivalo near the Finnish-Russian border, Hella is convinced that there is something to investigate in a grandfather’s disappearance from his remote Lapp village, she wangles her way onto the case and organises a search party. When they find animal-savaged human remains in the forest snow it is Hella who realises that the remains are those of a woman and this is truly a murder investigation. Ivar’s slow reveal of Hella's character and past add to the suspense in this mystery filled with strong character writing. Ultimately Hella leads us into a frantic race and final battle of wits to uncover and confront both society’s demons and her own. A strong start to what I hope will become a Hella Mauzer series.
Lynn Harvey, March 2019
EuroLit Riveting Reviews
This is Katja Ivar’s first book – and the first in a projected series featuring police sergeant Hella Mauzer. So far, so ordinary: but Evil Things is set in Finnish Lapland in 1952, a place and time when women police officers were as rare as hen’s teeth. Mauzer is in effect the female equivalent of the 1950s ‘angry young man’ – a feminist before that term was current. She has to battle not only crime but also prejudice and outright hostility from her colleagues, all while carrying the burdens of losing her entire family in her teens and a failed love affair with a radio DJ. So, after a serious incident while serving on the Helsinki homicide squad, after which she is told she is ‘too emotional’, she’s despatched to Ivalo in southern Lapland, where the worst case she has to face is a local beggar who persistently pees on the local doctor’s front steps. Until, that is, a man is reported missing in a tiny village hard against the Soviet border. In a country where the Cold War is a daily reality, Mauzer’s boss – Chief Inspector Lennart Eklund, a man obsessed with rules and regulations – is loth to let her investigate what he is convinced is just another drunkard who’s wandered off and died of hypothermia. Their relationship is difficult, to say the least:
‘Whoever had the deranged idea that a highly strung girl eager to sort out all of the world’s injustices, and a pale, limp, malevolent bureaucrat, whose only passions in life were his exotic wife and the proper use of the filing system, could work together as a team had, unsurprisingly, been proved wrong.’
But he reluctantly gives in. When a body is indeed discovered by the local Orthodox priest just as Hella Mauzer arrives in the village, she believes herself vindicated. But even though the corpse – which has been ravaged by wolves (or bears) – is hardly recognisable, it’s obvious it’s not the missing man, Erno Jokinen. And it soon becomes clear that Käärmela is hiding something much more serious than a simple homicide – or two.
Mauzer is both perceptive and pig-headed by turns, at first assuming that espionage must lie behind what she has uncovered, though she can’t figure out why:
‘… she just couldn’t imagine what Erno Jokinen’s contribution to the spying business could be: betraying such sensitive information as the reindeer population or the cranberry harvest?’
She can also be both sweetly persuasive and downright rude. And this is where I began to have problems, as these changes are sometimes too abrupt; and I found myself becoming increasingly frustrated at the way her curmudgeonly behaviour obstructs the investigation. This is one of the weaknesses in the book, almost as if the author is not quite sure how she will develop her character – although Mauzer does begin to see the light:
‘… she would have to abstain from mentioning her gut feeling … to her boss: hunches based on nothing more than instinct were good for men only. In women they were just whims or emotions … dirty words in Eklund’s mouth.’
It will be interesting to see how she emerges in volume two, so I won’t give up on her yet!
This story is both thrilling and unusual, though at times it doesn’t quite hang together: there are a few too many unexplained fortuitous jumps. More importantly, perhaps, some background needs to be woven into the story – some clear explanation of Finland’s and Lapland’s unusual history immediately preceding the events in the book. For even the details of ‘the Continuation War’ (which I had to look up) are too basic, and will, I think, leave a non-Finnish reader wondering. But the dénouement is finely tuned and quite unexpected and we are left keen to discover where Hella Mauzer will find herself next. So, a good start and, hopefully, more consolidation next time.
NY Journal of Books
“Evil Things introduces the readers to a small country where the winter snow hides a cataclysmic crime. It’s a chilling entry in this three-part series.”
It’s 1952 in Lapland, and Hella Mauzer has been sent to a little village on the Soviet border to investigate a crime her superior officer insists isn’t a crime at all. Erno Jokinen has vanished from his village, abandoning his small grandson. He could’ve wandered into the woods and gotten lost, then frozen in the cold or possibly been attacked by a bear, but the man was Skolt Sami, indigenous to the area and would know the forests well. The wife of the village priest has taken in the child and written to the police for help.
Hella Mauzer refuses to brush aside her appeal. Hella is the first female polissyster on the Helsinki police force. Her actions have already brought her to her superiors’ attention, and she’s been told “if she doesn’t learn to rein in her temper, she would end up being thrown out of the police.” Nevertheless, she insists on going to Käärmela to investigate.
It’s an arduous journey in winter, taking a timber truck to logging camp in the pine forest, then walking the rest of the way, and it’s complicated—getting approval for any expenses beforehand, checking the background of “involved parties” with the Security Intelligence Service. Also, the village is near the Soviet border and one has to be careful not to look as if one is trespassing on foreign soil.
When Hella arrives, she finds everyone mostly hostile. There’s Jeremias Karppinen, in a suspicious hurry to have Erno declared dead so he can purchase his house, and Marta Jokinen, Erno’s aunt, who goes out of her way to be viscously unhelpful. The only one in anyway cooperating is Irja, the priest’s wife, and little Kalle, the grandson, who rarely speaks.
When a body is discovered in the woods, Hella thinks the case is solved. It isn’t Erno’s corpse, however, but that of a woman. She’s apparently been mauled by an animal, only a few bones remaining. Someone remembers seeing the woman visiting Erno but no one knows her identity. Then Hella discovers a sketch Irja made of the unknown woman and Kalle, seeing it, gives the first clue.
“You forgot the little stars she had on her shoulders,” he said accusingly.
Hella grabbed a pencil. She drew a Red Army star. “A star like this?”
“How many of them?”
Kalle counted out dutifully. “Four on each shoulder.”
Erno was visited by a captain in the Soviet army. Kalle doesn’t remember the woman’s name or why she was there, just that she visited several times. Then she didn’t come any more and his grandfather went into the woods. From questioning the villagers, Hella comes to her own conclusions about the relationship between the female Soviet officer and Kalle’s grandfather, and it’s a very different one from what might be expected. There’s something going on in Käärmela. The villagers are in danger though they’re unaware. Only Hella has any inkling of what is happening, that a crime potentially worse than murder is being carried out in the little village. It’s a crime those in high places are aware of and will involves other countries including the United States.
She’s determined to expose the truth and bring justice to Erno, Kalle, and the others, but she’s already been told, “Justice in a cold climate is not a natural phenomenon. Snow is.” The average person probably knows nothing about Finland, other than it’s generally considered one of the Scandinavian countries, nothing of its participation during World War II or its position in the world order since that time. To the rest of the world, Finland is an anonymous country, a dot on a very large map. In Evil Things, that ignorance is immediately corrected with a short and concise history wedged between the events of Inspector Mauzer’s investigation, revealing Finland as a country where a great deal is going on. The country may be small and generally unknown but it houses some very interesting characters and its closeness to Russia makes it fatally strategic.
Hella Mauzer is a woman in a highly visual position. The first woman hired by the Helsinki Homicide Unit, she’s under close scrutiny by her superiors but determined to do her duty and discover if a crime has been committed when others would simply ignore it.
“Throw away the letter. Destroy the evidence. Because if there really has been a crime and we’ve been told about it but haven’t solved it, it will ruin our hundred per cent record.”
Evil Things introduces the readers to a small country where the winter snow hides a cataclysmic crime. It’s a chilling entry in this three-part series.
The Cold War will always be a fascination for crime and spy fiction and Ivar’s fresh take on the subject has a thrilling and original slant. There is a tendency in Britain and America to assume that the history of the Cold War somehow belongs to us and the Russians. It’s an arrogant misconception that a lot of Scandi-noir writers have sought to redress in recent years by giving a Nordic perspective (Arnaldur Indridason in Iceland and Steig Larsson in Sweden among them). Now Katja Ivar brings the situation along the Finnish border with Russia into focus as Evil Things is set in Lapland. I was tempted to refer to that region in the extreme north as exotic and remote but in fact it’s the frontier between East and West so the Cold War couldn’t be more relevant, more alive with daily danger and a constant edgy tension. Ivar has brought us a novel set at the coal face, as it were, from a place where the divide was a day to day reality. The little village of Kaarmela is a microcosm of the wider conflict but also an examination of how ordinary lives in small places were impacted by political decisions made thousands of miles away. Ivar is well travelled and has an understanding of the West/East conflict, she takes a balanced approach in telling this story which makes it all the more credible. It’s not easy determining where the good guys are or who has the moral high ground, which is as it should be if a good story is to be believed.
Evil Things reimagines the Finland of the 1950s very convincingly, the warp and weft of the political and social setting. The novel is particularly good on the ordinary lives of people because this is about more than the Cold War, it’s also about misogyny and the struggle women faced in achieving recognition for their role in society. It’s a crime novel with modern sensibilities, mainstreaming gender politics and re-examining history.
I know I bang on about the definition of history in historical fiction, but history isn’t the past it’s what we know of and how we interpret the past. Twentieth century European history has often excluded the role of women, which Ivar addresses. Her research gives a different complexion to our understanding of history, the role of women in the Finnish police force for example, and opens the door for an exciting detective story. Evil Things is the kind of novel that demonstrates the power of fiction to expose some of the short falls in our knowledge and interpretation of the past. It is also a reflection on how far we still fall short today, you will be struck by how little progress we have made in some areas (only last month the Metropolitan Police was called out for its lack of equality – again!). Although Ivar never strays from her measured tones, this is a novel that can make you quietly angry about the injustice of casual and ingrained sexism.
Finland’s past is complex, it was invaded and occupied by Sweden and Russia and, after independence, fell to the Germans during WWII. Lapland was occupied and much of the Sami population forcibly removed. By the time of the Cold War, Finland was living with renewed animosity, suspicion and fear of invasion. Yet the border wasn’t a physical barrier in the north; people crossed to trade, even went to Russia to shop and drink when they had money. In theory, the emancipation of the country coincided with the emancipation of women and by 1952 when the novel is set women were allowed to take the full police officer exams but few were given any responsibility in criminal investigations. This is the background to Evil Things.
Hella Mauzer was the first female homicide detective in Helsinki but now she is a sergeant in the Ivalo police. She has moved to Lapland but has no idea of the northern villages. Desperate for some real police work she has latched onto a letter from a priest’s wife, Mrs Waltari, from Kaarmela. A village populated by Skolt Sami, the indigenous people; there are no shops, no bars, there is only fishing, hunting and tending the reindeer. The letter says a man has gone missing but Chief Inspector Eklund isn’t keen on investigating. He doesn’t want the budget wasted, the winter is closing in and searching for the body now is too risky, the man may simply have got lost, perhaps drunk on Russian vodka he drowned, that is not a police matter. Hella knows this is most likely but she has an instinct which the chief puts down as overactive female compassion. Hella agrees to go on leave to investigate, while the magnanimous Eklund says she will be paid if she discovers a crime has been committed. The chief insists that all relevant suspects and witnesses are checked against SUPO Suojeupoliisi (security services) registers, can’t be too careful with all the communists about. Hella arrives as the priest, Timo Waltari, and some villagers turn up with a gruesome find, a human torso. When Hella examines the partially eaten body she realises this is a woman and not a local peasant either. While we gradually come to understand why Hella has been transferred to the north she is fighting a battle to get taken seriously by her superiors. Her colleagues may not be interested in what she has discovered but the security services certainly are. As the hunt for the missing man continues it becomes apparent to Hella that the secrets hidden around Kaarmela are far darker and more dangerous than a solitary killer on the loose.
Evil Things is a wonderful blend of spy story and crime thriller, gripping and engaging from the first pages. Hella is destined to become a formidable detective as this series progresses. Sadly the dark heart of the story is all too believable. Ivar has written a debut of stunning subtlety and complexity and yet it’s a proper page turner. When I’d finished reading this novel I couldn’t wait to ask Katja about it, the interview is published alongside this piece, so please check it out.
SYKM (Stop You’re Killing Me)
Evil Things(Bitter Lemon Press 2019) is set in 1952 Finland. Hella Mauzer, the first female inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit has been reassigned to Lapland after been deemed “too emotional” during an investigation of the brutal murder of a woman and three of her four young children. Before the war women were only allowed to be polissyster, comforting and questioning women and children, and Chief Inspector Eklund of the Ivar police department believes Hella should have stayed in that role while looking for a husband instead of qualifying to be a full police officer. Irja Waltari, the wife of the priest in the remote village of Käärmela near the border with Soviet Russia, writes to the Ivar police department to report the disappearance of Erno Jokinen, who left his young grandson Kalle alone in their isolated cabin. Eklund believes the old man became lost in the forest, but Hella is sure that Jokinen, who was born in the forest, is the victim of a crime. Eklund reluctantly gives Hella permission to use a few days off to investigate. The traumatized Kalle refuses to speak about the day his grandfather left, and is clearly terrified. He eventually admits that his grandfather went into the woods to fight the evil “white things,” instructing Kalle not to follow him. Hella questions Jokinen’s nearest neighbor Jeremias Karppinen, who tried to take possession of Jokinen’s house, but he insists Jokinen had no recent visitors. When the search party discovers an arm, it is assumed to be Jokinen until Hella washes away the mud to discover polished nails on the delicate hand, and insists on anther search, eventually discovering a rib cage and part of the head of a middle aged woman. Hella has already discovered that technical support in Lapland is nearly non-existent,on but carefully preserves the remnants of a glass vial crushed between the woman’s teeth. Eklund orders Hella to give up the investigation and return to Ivar, but Hella is determined to find the truth. This intense debut historical thriller is the first in a planned trilogy.
October 1952, Lapland, Finland. Hella Mauzer was the first female Inspector in the Helsinki Homicide Unit. After witnessing a horrendous murder and dealing with its aftermath, she is deemed too emotional for the job and reassigned to a small police station in the deepest north of Lapland. Working life in Ivalo is boring, and personal isn’t much better. There’s a doomed love affair with a married man, her own family dead in a tragic accident, a lack of classic female looks – or what’s considered a lack and often pointed out to her – and lack of prospects to marry a suitable man. Though her boss Chief Inspector Eklund has thought of pairing her off with a one-eyed lumberjack lorry driver.
However, Hella wants to investigate the disappearance of an older man, Erno Jokinen, from a remote village beyond the polar circle close to the Soviet border. According to the sceptical Eklund, people vanish in the snowy forests all the time, hence there’no point in wasting administrative resources. Somehow Hella manages to convince him and sets off to the village of Käärmela, also named Snake’s Nest. There she stays with an Orthodox priest Timo Waltari and his wife Irja who became guardians of a six-year-old boy Kalle, who was waiting alone in the house for four days for his grandfather who had never returned. The boy and the couple seem to harbour some secrets. Hella wastes no time in getting familiar with the now-abandoned house, the surrounding area and the locals. After six days of combing through the forest, not long after she arrives, a local search party finds a mutilated female body with a gunshot wound. She makes a huge effort to be reasonable and efficient, but with no moral nor technical support her every step and every question seems like a huge struggle against the villagers, gentle caring Irja and too handsome ex-revolutionary Father Timo.
She is stubborn as hell, a feminist before her time, fighting against the social constraints, misogyny and the authority which dismisses fairness and justice. And she’s desperate to find the killers and to prove that ordinary people can be treated fairly. Hella constantly battles with her own feelings to keep them at bay but also to appear as professional as possible in a man’s world. The fluctuating relationship between her and the priest’s wife is very well described as both women follow different paths, but a fragile friendship develops.
Evil Things is Katja Ivar’s debut novel. The author grew up in Russia and the US, finally settling down in Paris. Her eye for historical detail has made it possible to present a remarkable picture of the little-known history of Europe during the Cold War. I loved the sharp taut style that so perfectly sets up the claustrophobic and difficult era after the end of World War II when both the Russians and the Finns wanted to dominate Lapland. Citizens from both countries are watched by the Security Intelligence Service SUPO that keeps files on everyone. Secret messages are being sent between those in power. Fear and uncertainty permeate everyday life. There are accusations of spying from both sides, violations on the border and increasing tensions with the Soviet Union.
International conspiracies add to the overwhelming feeling of hopelessness and as more information comes to light Hella realises that she might be the only person trying to right what’s wrong within the system and the society. The location, although some parts are completely fictional, evokes strong emotions. You can feel the cold, darkness and hardship. I’m already looking forward to the next instalment in the series – and I’m sure Hella will not be quiet as expected.
Reviewed 01 June 2019 by Ewa Sherman